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Kidney Transplant Is Ultimate Gift for Berks County Woman

Team at Lehigh Valley Health Network helps Janine Krzyzanowski live life without dialysis

Janine Krzyzanowski was an active mother of a first grader and feeling great when, in 2009, she decided to take advantage of blood work offered through her employer’s wellness program.

The decision changed her life – and saved it.

Blood test results showed elevated levels of creatinine, a waste product generated through the normal breakdown of muscle cells. Kidneys normally filter out creatinine, and it exits your body when you urinate. Higher than normal levels of creatinine can indicate your kidneys are not functioning properly.

Did you know?

Lehigh Valley Health Network’s transplant program focuses on getting the most from every donation and transplant opportunity and performs twice as many transplants as national statistics predict, based on the number of patients on its waiting list.

Krzyzanowski, now 54, lives in Cumru Township, Berks County, near Shillington.

Armed with her test results, she saw her primary care physician, who sent her for a scan of her kidneys. The scan revealed inflammation, and her next visit was to a Pottstown nephrologist. A subsequent biopsy indicated lupus, an autoimmune disease, had damaged her kidneys.

“All of a sudden you find yourself in this place where you don’t understand what the situation is. It’s kind of like floating outside of your body,” she says.

Tough journey begins

Krzyzanowski’s doctor put her on prednisone, a corticosteroid used to fight inflammation. Add drastic diet changes and blood pressure medication, and Krzyzanowski says it was a “rough” time. At one point, she says, she was taking 30-40 pills a day, including one to help reduce the phosphorus building up in her blood. “I was just an emotional and physical wreck,” she says.

Three years after her diagnosis, her kidneys failed, and she went on dialysis. She was able to do at-home dialysis with a system that cleaned her blood overnight. But it still took a physical and mental toll.

When the decision was made to seek a transplant, Krzyzanowski initially made an appointment at a Philadelphia hospital, but the Montgomery County surgeon who created Krzyzanowski’s fistula, or dialysis access point in her arm, suggested she contact Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN).

“He said he had heard nothing but good things about LVHN, and wait times were shorter,” she says. In addition, travel to the Lehigh Valley from her home in Berks County was easier than getting to center city Philadelphia.

Turning to LVHN

Krzyzanowski, her husband, and her mother met with LVHN’s transplant team in winter 2013 and were immediately impressed. She says the transplant process was fully explained and she felt very comfortable. Testing took a few months to complete, and she went on LVHN’s transplant list in June 2013. “I was so confident in LVHN’s program,” she says.

Her husband, family members and friends were all tested to be possible kidney donors, but none was a match.

She was at work in January 2015 when she got the call: a donor kidney was available. The transplant took place Jan. 9, 2015. “It was amazing,” she says. “Dr. [Michael] Moritz, he’s just amazing, as is the entire team there. The kidney worked immediately, and there were no issues.”

Krzyzanowski, a production planner for a medical device company, says there was a smooth transition after her transplant. She can sleep at night, no longer tethered to a dialysis machine. “I feel like I never had a transplant,” she says. “It is such a huge weight off my shoulders. Before, my life was consumed about what to eat, what to do, and dialysis. You feel like you’re living in a prison. It just controls everything in your life.”

Post-transplant freedom

Krzyzanowski says the transplant gave her a second chance. She was able to see her daughter grow up, graduate from high school and start college this year at Penn State, Krzyzanowski’s alma mater, and the same school where she met her husband. “It was so much fun being able to share and experience it all, to do the things we wanted, the crazy adventures,” she says.

“It is such a huge weight off my shoulders. Before, my life was consumed about what to eat, what to do, and dialysis. You feel like you’re living in a prison. It just controls everything in your life.” – Janine Krzyzanowski

Moritz says LVHN’s transplant program is successful for many reasons, but chief among them is the compassionate, hardworking transplant program team. “Everyone involved in a transplant patient’s care works tirelessly in a culture dedicated to exceptional care,” he says.

Krzyzanowski agrees, the entire transplant team continues to be supportive post-transplant. “They’re giving me all the tools I need to continue to be healthy,” she says.

The kidney Krzyzanowski received came from a deceased donor. Krzyzanowski says she always elected organ donation on her driver’s license, but never really thought much about it. Because of her experience, her family and friends who had not elected to be organ donors have done so. “You never think about it until it affects you or your family,” she says.

Krzyzanowski says she is thankful beyond measure for the generosity of the donor and the donor’s family.

“How is ‘thank you’ enough?” Krzyzanowski asks. “What they gave back to me is beyond any type of gift that anyone has ever given me in my life.”

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