Sally Hernandez’s life has been full of twists and turns. She’s traveled a long journey in search of family, a pancreas and a kidney.
Hernandez earned her strength after being fostered by several families and then adopted as a young girl. A crippling Type 1 diabetes diagnosis sent her on a path toward needing two transplants.
At 30, doctors told her that her diabetes was putting her life at risk. Hernandez struggled with severe migraines, dizziness, fatigue and daily blood sugar levels in the high 600s. It was time for a pancreas transplant.
Most pancreas transplants pair well with kidney transplants. But at the time, Hernandez’s kidneys were healthy. She didn’t want to take a kidney away from someone who truly needed it.
Instead she found the nearest transplant center that would offer a pancreas-only transplant. It was located 900 miles away in Tucson, Arizona. Getting there quickly when a pancreas became available would be expensive.
At the time, Hernandez worked in Visalia, California. When the community learned of her transplant need, they helped raise funds to cover the cost for Hernandez and her husband to obtain designated flight transportation so that she’d be able to receive the transplant within a four-hour window.
On June 17, 2010, the call came through: a pancreas was available. Hernandez had her savior “Pretty Patty.” She came up with the nickname after her surgeon told her it was one of the prettiest pancreases he’d seen.
Three months after the transplant, Hernandez’s health began to decline. The anti-rejection medications she was taking to stop her immune system from attacking her transplant were causing her kidneys to fail.
“I took a five-minute pity break and cried my eyes out,” said Hernandez. “Then, I said, ‘I’m going to get a kidney. My life motto is determined by my blood type—B Positive.”
Over the next eight years, Hernandez patiently waited for a transplant while her kidneys struggled to keep up. She began dialysis at DaVita Napa Dialysis Center, where she gained a new family.
Hernandez got another miracle call in December 2018: a kidney was ready for her. She received her transplant, naming her new inhabitant “Kit.”
Post-transplant, Hernandez is transformed. She leads a support group at her dialysis center for patients and caregivers. Every month, she empowers participants with knowledge on everything from being compliant with treatment and having the right attitude, to learning about the transplant process and finding a donor.
According to Hernandez, when it comes to seeking a transplant, discouragement is only allowed a few minutes a year. “Dialysis gave me three years of quality time with my family that I wasn’t destined to have. I talked to my social worker at DaVita about the transplant centers they work with, and it was helpful. Talk with your nephrologist. Tell people your need for a kidney transplant and believe you’ll get one.”
More than 2,000 Americans are currently on the waiting list for a simultaneous kidney-pancreas transplant. More information about organ donation and registering to be an organ donor is available at DonateLife.net.