By the time Mary was 12 years old, she had already received her second kidney transplant. After being on peritoneal dialysis for two years at 3-years-old, Mary’s kidneys completely failed by the age of 5. At 5 years old, Mary received her first kidney transplant. Both of Mary’s transplants were from deceased donors, as none of Mary’s loved ones could act as a living kidney donor.
Mary was born healthy, but at a young age, she was not eating, walking, or thriving. Her parents were informed that their daughter was born with renal agenesis, which means her kidneys never fully developed—one kidney was shrinking and the other was deformed. After her first transplant, her family was thrilled with the belief that her new kidney would last forever and their problems were over.
Although Mary was able to have a somewhat normal childhood and enjoyed being a kid, the illness took its toll on her school and family life. Three years after her first kidney transplant, Mary’s mother left, and Mary’s father raised her and her older sister alone. Mary never felt like she belonged among and always felt and knew she was different from her same-age peers.
Before Mary reached 11-years-old, she received news that she only had 10% function of her first kidney transplant remaining. She was put on the national waiting list for a kidney transplant and prepped for hemodialysis. While waiting for her second kidney transplant, she was very much well aware that she would need a life-saving transplant or she would live her life dependent on a dialysis machine. On May 5, 1995, Mary received second kidney transplant was from a 4-year-old girl who died when a mirror fell on her. Mary receiving both kidneys as both Mary and her donor were children. She has had this second kidney transplant for 23 years and going.
Transplant patients are required to take a significant amount of medications and undergo ongoing appointments with the transplant center to prevent their organs from rejecting. This can be daunting for anyone, especially a child. Thankfully, Mary’s entire family stepped in and organized her medication routine and to maintain her second kidney transplant gift of life.
“A lot of people are shocked when I tell them I have had two kidney transplants along with a hysterectomy and hip replacement as side effects to lifetime immunosuppressant medications,” Mary noted. “Most people think a transplant lasts a lifetime, especially since I’m young. However, it is an ongoing journey to maintain a gift of life, and you never want to stop giving and living and honoring your living or deceased donors and making a legacy.”
Mary also had the unique challenge with her transplant: her culture. As an American-born Chinese (ABC) woman, Mary has faced challenges with her family members/friends being open to and registering as a life-saving organ, eye, and tissue donors. The Asian/Chinese culture considers organ donation and transplantation as taboo and do not openly discuss organ donation/transplantation.
To try to start the conversation about over 125,000 individuals waiting for a life-saving organ transplant, Mary has a blog called The Wu Way (www.thewuway.com) and authored a book entitled “Confessions of a Kidney Transplant Recipient.”
“We have to talk about it. We are afraid to talk about death and of death as the unknown, but what if we were afraid of our lives not beginning or not living out our legacy? We are all going to die and need to open up this discussion,” she said. “Too many people are waiting. Too many people die waiting.”