Daughter’s kidney to give woman new lease on life

Laura and Theresa Nisley

Laura Nisley is giving her mother the greatest birthday gift she can offer: more birthdays.

Today, nine days before her mother turns 54, Nisley will go into surgery at Denver’s Porter Adventist Hospital and have one of her kidneys removed. Two hours later, her mother, Theresa Nisley, will have that kidney transplanted into her body.

“She’s giving me the gift of life,” Theresa Nisley said Wednesday from her Redlands home. “She’s giving me something most people couldn’t or wouldn’t.”

Laura Nisley, now 21, was a 19-year-old freshman at Mesa State College when she found out her mother’s kidneys were no longer functional. Theresa Nisley received the news in March 2010 when she went in for a checkup before hernia surgery. The doctor told Nisley, a school nurse on leave from Fruita Middle School, he could not perform the surgery because her kidneys were failing.

“Being a nurse, I knew what some of those numbers meant and I said, ‘My kidneys aren’t failing, they’re gone,’ ” Nisley recalled.

She immediately began dialysis treatments three times a week for four hours at a time. She blames a combination of over-the-counter pain relievers and an anti-seizure drug a doctor prescribed to her for migraines for the failure of her kidneys. She said she felt tired and had headaches before her diagnosis, but never suspected her kidneys had ceased to function.

“The symptoms are headaches and nausea, that stuff could be anything,” she said.

Laura, her father, Jack, and her brothers Jason, 28, Matt, 26, and J.P., 24, spent hours with Theresa in the hospital. Jason said his mother struggled with depression during that time because she couldn’t do as much or travel to the Grand Mesa, where the family used to spend weeks in the summer.

“Her whole outlook on life changed. It was hard to convince her everything was going to be OK,” Jason Nisley said.

Theresa admits there were times she was ready to give up. But her family provided comfort and Laura in particular “always knew what I needed to hear,” Theresa said.

Laura learned early in her mother’s illness that she could be tested to see if she could donate a kidney. Her mother didn’t like the idea at first.

“I didn’t want to take it from her because she’s so young,” Theresa said. “It took a lot of convincing from my husband. He said, ‘You can’t deprive her of that. She’ll always wonder if she could have helped.’ “

A CAT scan, EKG test, chest X-ray and 13 tubes of blood later, doctors at St. Mary’s Hospital found Laura was a perfect match for donating a kidney to her mom. She was nonchalant about going under the knife. Having her first surgery, a scar, and dealing with the 15 hours of sleep a night she may need for up to six months after surgery didn’t faze the college student.

“I’m happy and excited. It makes me feel blessed that I can actually do it,” she said.

Jason, who is adopted and does not have the same blood type as his mom, said he and his brothers appreciate their sister’s sacrifice.

“My sister’s my hero,” Jason said. “I can’t even put into words what this means to me for her to step up to the plate and take one for the team.”

Laura will be in Denver for a week, but her mom will need a month there to recuperate. Theresa will take up to 30 pills a day during that time and see doctors regularly to make sure the kidney is functioning properly. Barring rejection of the new organ, Theresa said the donated kidney should get her through another 17 to 30 years. She plans to spend that time with her growing family, including Jason’s 7-month-old son and another grandchild who is due next month.

“This stuff can tear a family apart or bring it close. For us, it’s definitely brought the family together,” Theresa said.


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