Years ago, a healthy, active, 17-year-old Nicole Bryant started experiencing flu-like symptoms. When symptoms persisted, Nicole and her mother went to the emergency room to deal with what they thought was some sort of flu. Hours after arriving, Nicole was told that her kidneys only had 2% kidney function without going on dialysis immediately, she only had 3 days to live. Four hours later, Nicole began her first hemodialysis treatment and started an unexpected journey as a kidney patient that has continued to shape her entire life.
“I was a very active teenager. I played softball, ran track, and did a lot of high school sports,” Nicole explains. “I started having a lot of shortness of breath, weakness, and fatigue, which made me feel depressed and hopeless because I wasn’t sure what was wrong with me.”
Nicole says that dealing with kidney failure as a young adult was challenging—especially given the unexpected way in which she found out about her kidney failure.
“I was very scared when I had to get the catheter placed,” says Nicole. “It was placed near my chest, and as a teenager, you already have body image issues, so the catheter made it even more challenging.”
For a long time, Nicole felt that she did not understand her diagnosis of kidney failure. Her dialysis treatments were less regular than most, since her kidney function would come and go without a distinct pattern. In addition, Nicole was often one of the only young people at a dialysis center. Despite her differences, Nicole had something in common with other dialysis patients: she needed a kidney transplant in order to get back to a life that was not dictated by dialysis arrangements.
Nearly 3,000 people in Michigan are currently waiting for an organ transplant. About 2,400 of these people are waiting for a kidney transplant—Nicole was just one of many. The average wait time for a kidney transplant in Michigan is 5-7 years.
After 5 years of waiting, Nicole got the call: a kidney was available. She had a successful transplant and had the new kidney for 6 years before it began to reject and she was forced back on dialysis in 2001. This time, however, Nicole was fortunate enough to receive a kidney transplant in 2002 from her brother, Larry Williams. With a long and lengthy “renal resume,” Nicole says the quality of life with a transplant is much better than on dialysis.
“Being on dialysis gave me a lot more fatigue and less energy,” says Nicole. “A transplant makes you feel a lot more energetic and normal. I feel that with a transplant, people look at me as a person rather than as a patient. A transplant makes me feel like I don’t have rules and regulations that guide my life the way that dialysis does, and it makes me feel confident in my daily activities,” Nicole explains.
Nicole says that the kidney transplant saved her life, and inspired her to reach out to others that might be enduring a similar challenge to the one she faced as a dialysis patient and a young adult with kidney failure. In 1997, Nicole became involved with the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan (NKFM). She organized a team for the Ann Arbor/Brighton Kidney Walk and had a successful first year as a walker, but she didn’t stop there. Nicole became involved with the NKFM’s Peer Mentoring Program, speaking with other kidney patients and helping them deal with the challenges they face both physically and emotionally. She also became involved with the Body and Soul project, helping educate African American members of the church in order to bring awareness about kidney disease to their congregations. Nicole has stuck with the Ann Arbor/Brighton Kidney Walk and extended her volunteer efforts to the annual Kidney Ball.
“The NKFM is a miracle family for me. It has been such an eye opener to embrace so many people that are willing to help with kidney disease and diabetes,” Nicole says. “When I was growing up, I didn’t have all of that, dealing with my kidney disease. It’s an absolutely amazing experience to have this many people willing to help people like myself that might feel like they have nothing else. That makes it such a special group of people.”
Late in 2012, Nicole will celebrate 10 years with her second kidney transplant, and continues to be more and more involved with the NKFM.