Hyewoon “Kate” L Kidney Donor Gives the Gift of Life

“Dawn and I call each other sisters because I have part of her body”

In December 2018, Hyewoon “Kate” Lim started kidney dialysis, a treatment that required her to hook herself up to a machine every night so her blood could be filtered for eight hours while she slept—well, tried to sleep. She usually got no more than three or four hours of rest, and never all in a row. She needed dialysis because her kidneys were failing as a result of a disease called IgA nephropathy, which she was diagnosed with in 2005.

While patients who experience kidney failure often undergo hemodialysis at a medical facility a few times a week during the day, Kate, 37, who lives with her husband in Hillsborough, works as a pianist and music instructor. So she chose to do a nighttime treatment called peritoneal dialysis instead.

Besides the lack of sleep, Kate became overwhelmed with how much time the treatment took, including a half hour before and after to carefully clean the equipment. Sometimes, she also experienced pain and discomfort from the treatment, which required a port to be inserted in her abdomen so that a cleansing fluid could flow through a tube into the lining of her abdomen, the peritoneum, which acted as a filter to remove waste from her blood.

“I got very depressed,” says Kate.

A Perfect Match

Kidney dialysis patients often need to wait five or more years on a transplant list until they can receive a kidney from a deceased donor. Luckily for Kate, dialysis came to an end after about a year and a half, when Dawn Drickler, 49, an acquaintance from church, offered to donate her kidney to Kate.

For many years, Dawn, who lives in Flemington with her husband and two cats, hadn’t been a regular churchgoer and had seen Kate only a few times. But Dawn’s mother knew Kate well because they saw each other every Sunday at church. Dawn’s mom sang in the choir, and Kate was the pianist. By the time Kate’s kidneys were failing to the point that she needed dialysis, Dawn had started to go to church more often, and the two women had become better acquainted. When Dawn learned about Kate’s need for a kidney, she decided to see if she was a donor match. She was surprised to find out that she was.

“I was ecstatic because I didn’t think I would get that far,” says Dawn.

The two women had the same blood type and were compatible in other ways necessary for a successful transplant. The surgeries were originally scheduled for March but were delayed due to safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the women finally got the go-ahead on June 23, Dawn’s physician, Ronald Pelletier, MD, a transplant surgeon and Program Director at the Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Center at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH), removed her left kidney. Ronald Pelletier, MD He immediately gave it to Kate’s doctor, Advaith Bongu, MD, a kidney/pancreas transplant surgeon, who transplanted it into Kate. Dr. Bongu accommodated Kate’s request to play classical music during the operation. Both surgeries went well.

A Grateful Patient

Kate’s new kidney started working immediately. She stopped doing dialysis and taking the blood pressure medications she needed previously because of her failed kidneys.

For a few months after the transplant, she had to take medication to prevent infection, but now she only takes anti-rejection medications to prevent her body from attacking the new organ.

Dr. Bongu says Kate probably would have spent several more years on the transplant wait list had it not been for Dawn. “None of this would have been possible if it had not been for Dawn’s selfless gift,” he says.

Advaith Bongu, MD

Dawn was glad to help. Since the surgery, she and Kate have talked and texted frequently. “I didn’t hesitate to help Kate,” says Dawn. “I wanted to help so that she could live and not have to go through what she went through with the dialysis.”

Kate is thankful. “Dawn and I call each other sisters because I have part of her body,” she says.

For Kate, the gift of Dawn’s kidney was nothing short of life-changing. “Every night I go to sleep without hooking myself up to the machine, I’m grateful,” says Kate. “I feel great.”

For more information about the Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Center, visit www.njtransplant.org