Jul. 9—Twelve years ago, Joana Mari Narvarte's kidneys unexpectedly failed at the age of 14. She waited three years for a transplant, ultimately receiving one from her mother Marina Narvarte, the Lodi Chamber of Commerce's director of membership.
The family was told that kidneys from living donors last eight to 10 years.
Last week, Joana Narvarte found herself directly in the middle of that schedule when she received some bad news. The kidney her mother had donated nearly a decade ago was only working at 5% the capacity it should have been.
"It's crazy because I went to the (emergency room) for something completely separate, a total different situation," she said. "And then we found out that the kidney my mother donated was not doing too well. It was a very fast process of 'hey, it's only at 5%, we need to do something right away.'"
Joana Narvarte was admitted to the ER on June 29, and three days later, she underwent surgery to try to repair the failing kidney.
She was told she will now have to have her mother's donated kidney replaced. While replacement might seem like a simple and easy process, Joana and Marina know that it's not.
"In order to be matched with a donor, you have to be listed that you need one," Marina Narvarte said. "In order to be listed, she has to start dialysis. The dialysis center will put that together for her first. They're going to do all the testing, and they want to make sure she can accept dialysis again."
It's been nine years since Joana was on dialysis, and with the recent news that her kidney is failing once again, she was placed on peritoneal dialysis, in which the lining of the abdomen is used to filter blood through the body.
While she waits to be placed on a list of donation recipients, Joana will need to undergo dialysis every day for eight hours.
"When you're on dialysis, it could be the biggest waiting day ever," she said. "It could be three to five years, 10 years. It really just depends on what's available. So this time, because it's the second time around, I could be on the list a lot longer. And a lot of times, patients who haven't had new kidneys yet get first pick."
A marriage family therapist and clinical counselor for at-risk youth, Joana recently earned a master's degree and was preparing to return to school in the fall to earn a doctorate.
Last week's prognosis has put Joana's life on an indefinite hold.
"Now we have to pause everything because we have a new priority to focus on and get her back to her normal life," Marina Narvarte said, adding that while the wait for a new kidney is going to be arduous, the family is not asking for a member of the community to come forward and donate.
Rather, mother and daughter want to be advocates and make the public aware that everyone who needs a transplant experiences a long wait time for replacements. That long wait time is due mostly to a shortage of organs, Marina Narvarte said.
According to a 2020 article published by Penn Medicine News, more than 90,000 patients were waiting for kidney transplants.
However, only about 20,000 transplants are performed each year. The article reported that 5,000 people on the transplant waiting list die annually without receiving a transplant.
"We wanted to share our story, and we want to share that if there's anyone we can help ... even if it's just to talk to them, it's okay," Marina Narvarte said. "We're blessed because (our family is) still whole and (Joana's) still with us, and she's fighting for whatever we have to fight."
Joana Narvarte isn't expecting a new kidney tomorrow, but she knows there are others out there who may be experiencing the anxiety of waiting to be placed on the transplant list, as well as those who would like to donate but have reservations.
She and her mother said if anyone needs advice, reassurance, or just a sounding board, they are willing to help.
"If it's within someone's heart to see if they match and go get tested, great," Joana Narvarte said. "It may not even be for me, which is totally OK. It might be for someone else who's been on the waiting list for five or seven years. We really just want to put the word out that we are people who have gone through this, and let others know that there are others like us, and we are open to help others become more aware or gain knowledge about this."
If you would like to speak to the Narvartes about donating, or waiting for an organ, call 702-408-2584 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about donating a kidney, visit the National Kidney Foundation online at www.kidney.org.