Lifestyle

Federal Way mother of seven battles kidney failure

Tammy Aegerter and husband, Larry, take one day at a time as they and their seven children wait for a kidney donation to be made to Tammy. A match has not yet been found.  - Jacinda Howard/The Mirror
Tammy Aegerter and husband, Larry, take one day at a time as they and their seven children wait for a kidney donation to be made to Tammy. A match has not yet been found.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard/The Mirror

Time is of the essence for Tammy Aegerter, a Federal Way resident facing chronic and acute kidney failure.

Aegerter, 42, last received a kidney transplant 18 years ago at age 24. Her brother gave her that gift. At age 17, Aegerter discovered she had Rapidly Progressive Glomerulonephritis (RPGN), a disease that leaves the kidneys helpless in their attempts to filter toxins from one's body and maintain fluid levels, among other things.

With medication, she was able to avoid a transplant for several years. She had two small children at the time, but also had the assistance of a nanny and the reassurance from her brother that whenever she was ready for his donation, the transplant would take place.

Then, two years ago, when Aegerter was pregnant with her youngest child, she found out the disease was once again causing kidney failure.

"It's harder this time than last time," Aegerter said. "I'm doing it all on my own."

Now, she and her family are playing the waiting game. Aegerter's kidney is functioning at less than 10 percent of its full capacity. She began participating in the University of Washington Medical Center's Living Kidney Donor Program in January 2007.

"We're so lucky she's still here," said Aegerter's husband, Larry.

Lifestyle changes

RPGN has slowed her lifestyle and often leaves her tired, frustrated and agitated. For the mom of seven, living on the go and being active has always been a large part of Aegerter's lifestyle.

"The hardest thing for the kids and me, right now, is not only is she tired, but her ability to handle things," Larry said.

Aegerter cannot afford to overextend herself and become sick. Any illness sticks with her longer than average healthy individuals and can land her in the emergency room. Having to slow down is frustrating.

"The hardest thing is your energy level when your kidney starts to fail," Aegerter said. "For me, to rest wasn't in my vocabulary."

While the family tries to cope with everyday life, they continue to hope for a blood match and donor to appear. Typically, doctors prefer kidney donors to be at least 18 years old. Aegerter's oldest two children, ages 21 and 19, and her father have tested to be donors. But their blood is not a match to Aegerter's Type O.

Although she can receive a kidney donation from a cadaver or a living individual, the wait period through the living donor program is shorter than waiting to receive from a cadaver, Aegerter said. This is due to her blood type primarily.

The UW medical center evaluates possible living related donors and unrelated donors. Success rates for related donors are 95 percent in the first five years, according to the UWMC Living Donor Program Web page.

The donated organ can function for 25 years or more. A transplant from an unrelated donor can typically last 10 to 15 years, according to the site. With medication and technology, a kidney transplant can be avoided to a point, as it was earlier in Aegerter's life. But the medicine is not a long-term solution.

"We pretty much know it needs to be a kidney (donation)," Larry said.

Anyone can be a kidney donor and technology has come a long way since Aegerter last received a kidney. Because of state laws, unless a possible donor tells Aegerter he or she has been tested, she will not know. Testing of a donor for a match can take four to five weeks and includes blood draws and a physical — but recovery for the donor is fairly quick and painless for most.

Surgery options exist, and no longer does the process have to leave a large ghastly scar. Laparoscopic surgery allows doctors to expand a person's abdomen through the use of gases, then insert telescopic and surgery instruments through several small incisions, according to the UWMC Living Kidney Donor Program Web page. Benefits of the surgery include fewer complications, less post-operative pain, a decreased need for pain medication and a shorter recovery time for most patients, according to the site.

"It's not that scary," Larry said. "It's not as intrusive as it would seem."

A person can function with one healthy kidney. However, kidney diseases often affect both organs, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

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Check it out

• Learn more about Tammy Aegerter at http://tammyskidney.org.

• Learn more about the Living Kidney Donor Program at http://uwmedicine.washington.edu/PatientCare/InformationForHealthcareProfessionals/MakeAReferral/UWMC/referuwmclivingkidney.htm.

• Call (206) 598-3627 to reach personnel with the Living Kidney Donor Program and learn more about donating a kidney.

• National Kidney Foundation: www.kidney.org/kidneydisease/howkidneyswrk.cfm

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