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"I gave my father his life back"

Erica Blitstein's father Jerrold was diagnosed with diabetes over 60 years ago. As a result, his kidneys took a beating and he was diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease. The disease progressed very quickly and in no time, he was in need of a transplant.

Erica had already lost her grandparents to kidney disease and she could see how weak and sick the disease made her father and dedicated herself to his care.

The road to donation was clear to Erica but she did her research, "Many, many people tried to talk me out of kidney donation because the internet is full of false information. You can live a full life with one kidney. Your kidney grows when you donate. The recovery process is not as long as people say it is. Everything in life happens for a reason. I spent most of my 20s taking care of my parents and grandparents. I didn't have kids because I had a lot of obligations. I can still have children after donation. I need to continue to eat a low sodium diet and exercise to keep my blood pressure down."

On March 29, 2018, Erica and Jerrold walked into the Loyola University Transplant Center and Erica's kidney became Jerrold's. In just a few short weeks, the father she knew returned.

"This experience was the greatest gift I ever gave someone. I gave my father his life back. He walks our puppy multiple times a day, golfs, sees family and friends and is enjoying life after his transplant. Organ donation is such a blessing. I am so very thankful that I was able to help my father."

Jerrold and Erica

But Jerrold isn't the only one whose life has changed. Erica now volunteers with Loyola, speaking to patients and their potential donors about her experience. " I want more people to hear my story of how sick my dad was before surgery and how healthy he is now enjoying his retirement. As a Living Donor Advocate I help people with kidney disease find donors. They refer me to people on the fence about donating and looking to hear more family stories and feedback in the surgery and life after surgery. And it is the best, most rewarding experience."

To those who are considering living donation, Erica says, " If you are well enough to help someone who is suffering from kidney disease, I recommend helping the family or friend. Life is about memories and experiences it is not about material things. I am very grateful I was able to donate."

For more information about living donation, click here.

In the future, Erica hopes to continue her advocacy efforts by encouraging primary care physicians to include kidney screenings as part of a patient's annual physical. "I find that many family friends who are diabetic have had kidney issues. I want to become an advocate for patients seeing a nephrologist much sooner. Most diabetic patients see an endocrinologist and don't see a nephrologist unless their creatinine level is high but kidney health is very important. It's as important as taking insulin!"

Speaking to Jerrold's 60 years with diabetes, Erica says, "My dad never was in the hospital, he took care of himself, but not all people and kids who are recently diagnosed with diabetes understand how your kidneys are affected by the disease and things you eat and drink. If you are at risk for kidney disease I would recommend changing your diet. Limiting your sodium, potassium and protein intake. Nutrition is a big part of kidney disease."

To learn more about a kidney-friendly diet, click here.

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