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Monday, June 20, 2016

With a Little Help From My Friend

Posted By: Advancing Care

How two young women forged a friendship over hours of dialysis.

By Melissa F. Pheterson

The ordeal of dialysis for a failing kidney can be a lonely, somber and frightening one — especially for a patient in her early 20s.

That’s why Erica Chacon and Amanda Garcia, both 26, feel lucky to have each other. The young women, who were both in treatment at Westchester Medical Center’s (WMC) Transplant Center, were introduced by Maureen Brogan, MD, their nephrologist at WMC, the flagship of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth). They had lupus, an autoimmune disorder that attacks and inflames the kidneys, rendering them unable to perform their normal waste-filtering function for the body. Both desperately needed a new kidney to restore their energy, eliminate dialysis and save their lives.

“Dr. Brogan introduced me to Erica because she knew I was scared,” Garcia says. “Erica said that yes, it was scary, with complications like blood-pressure issues; yes, it can be depressing, but not to worry; all of that was normal. Talking to her was comforting because sometimes I sat there feeling as though I would never get a kidney, that I was actually going to die. Erica could identify and relate.”

Their friendship grew when they joined a support group — organized by a social worker who worked in the dialysis unit — which helped them gain insight and hope.

The women exchanged numbers and began to share their experiences, discuss their fears, offer reassurances and develop a bond — not at a salon or sushi joint, like many 20-somethings, but at the dialysis center.

“Supporting each other made everything easier,” Chacon, of Dobbs Ferry, says of her fellow dialysis patients and of Garcia in particular. “People sometimes don’t understand the things we go through — we’re often tired or in pain — but we could relate to each other and support each other. It made everything easier, even when the days were difficult.”

As last summer turned to fall, the friends found themselves on different schedules, receiving dialysis on different days. Chacon’s boyfriend at the time, another dialysis patient, had already received his new kidney, leaving her anxious and alone on treatment days. Then, the holiday season approached.

At 2 a.m. on the day before Thanksgiving, Garcia received a call that “a kidney was on its way” to the hospital, ending three years of waiting and hoping. Hiroshi Sogawa, MD, Director of Kidney Transplantation at WMC, and Gregory Veillette, MD, performed the transplant at 10 a.m.

Garcia remained in the hospital for several weeks, requiring intensive anti-rejection medication. On a walk to the pantry, she saw a familiar face turn the corner: It was Chacon, who had received her kidney the day before New Year’s Eve. (“New year, new kidney, new life,” Chacon recalls.)

“We’d walk around the hospital together, getting exercise, trying to recuperate,” Garcia says. “We had to go twice a week for blood work, and that’s when our friendship really developed. We had our girl-time again.”

Chacon says her recovery was “quick, easy and painless. Dr. Veillette was very caring; he wanted to make sure everything worked out. The whole transplant team is great; they care so much.”

Today, Garcia says she and Chacon can dance, dine out and resume their “girl-time” with renewed vigor and energy.

“It’s amazing; I feel like nothing ever happened,” says Garcia of her transplant. “If it weren’t for my scar, I would have thought it was just a dream.”

Pictured: Erica Chacon (far left) and Amanda Garcia, hanging out on the Yonkers waterfront.

Transplant Support Groups at WMC Health

Patient Education Support

Transplant Patient Education Support Group

First Thursday of every other month (Next meeting is 7/7) 6-7:30 p.m.

Taylor Pavilion, Westchester Medical Center

All pre- and post-transplant patients and family members welcome

Caregiver Support

Transplant Caregiver Support Group

First Saturday of every other month (next meeting is 8/6) at 11:30 a.m.

Taylor Pavilion, Westchester Medical Center

Open to transplant caregivers only

For more information, please contact Mimi Greenman at 914.493.1048.