Medical Miracles on Harrison Ave

In the fall of 2016, Teresa rushed out of her house into her daughter’s car and set out toward Interstate 95. Moments earlier she had received a call that a kidney was available for her at Boston Medical Center. For Teresa and her family, a new kidney would be the miracle she needed to get her life back after a decade on hemodialysis. The only thing that stood between her and her new life was 578 miles of highway. Teresa lives in Virginia.

“After the call, I said to my daughter, ‘let’s go!’ We took a handful of clothes and jumped in the car. We had a short timeline. We had to be there in nine hours,” remembers 64-year-old Teresa.

Thirteen years ago Teresa’s life changed forever. It all started innocently enough with a case of swollen feet. Teresa didn’t think much of it at first. She had just returned to the United States after a visit to the Philippines, a grueling 21-hour plane ride across the Pacific. But when the swelling persisted, she sought medical advice. Teresa was diagnosed with AL amyloidosis, a rare and life-threatening condition where abnormal proteins damage organs, tissues and nerves in the body. She needed specialized medical care immediately.

Although she has been a long-time resident of Virginia Beach, Virginia, Teresa chose Boston Medical Center for her treatment. BMC’s Amyloidosis Center is the leading authority on amyloidosis in the world. Physicians at the medical center pioneered a life-saving stem cell transplantation procedure that has become the standard first-line therapy for the condition.

“She is a miracle, honestly. Everything came together. Her new kidney started making urine while we were in surgery. Within five days she was released from the hospital.” — Jean Francis, MD, director of the Kidney Transplant Program at BMC

Teresa traveled with her grown daughters to Boston for the one-month treatment.

Despite the risks and hardship, Teresa maintained a good attitude with the help of her supportive family. “Life is not easy but you have to enjoy your life and embrace the good with the bad. I believe that God knows what’s in store for us. You have to think positive,” she says.

Thankfully, Teresa’s  treatment was a success. Her body no longer produced damaging amyloid proteins; however, her kidneys were left badly damaged from the disease and continued to fail. Without functioning kidneys she would need to rely on a hemodialysis machine to remove excess fluid and waste from her blood.

“Let me explain dialysis. It means getting to the clinic two hours before your appointment and waiting for a chair. The treatment itself is three hours long, and then you feel terrible for hours afterward. Imagine that for three days a week, every month, every year, for 10 years,” explains Jean Francis, MD, director of the Kidney Transplant Program at BMC.

Work, hobbies and travel take a back seat to the treatments required to maintain health. The best option for end stage renal disease is a kidney transplant. Unfortunately, medical  centers often refuse to consider amyloidosis patients for transplants. They worry about the risk of reoccurrence of the disease and the extent to which the disease has damaged other organs, especially the heart.

“Because BMC is the leading treatment center for amyloidosis, we are specially positioned to offer these patients hope. Working in coordination with our amyloid specialists, we have done many transplants for these patients and in my experience they do very, very well,” explains Francis.

The BMC transplant team thought Teresa was a good candidate for a new kidney because she had been in remission for more than 10 years and her other organs were healthy. They put her name on the regional organ waiting list. Depending on blood type the usual wait for a kidney can be anywhere between four and seven years, but Francis warned Teresa it could only be a matter of weeks until she received the call. For kidneys, recipients’ wait times begin when they start hemodialysis. So essentially, Teresa had already been on the waiting list for 10 years.

It was, in fact, just weeks when Teresa found herself racing up the interstate to BMC with her daughter.

“She is a miracle, honestly,” remarks Francis. “Everything came together. Her new kidney started making urine while we were in surgery. Within five days she was released from the hospital.”

Teresa and her daughters stayed in Boston for one month after the transplant to make sure no medical complications cropped up. A year later Teresa is flourishing. She has replaced hemodialysis with early morning walks in her neighborhood courtyard and is looking for part-time work.

“I am so grateful to all the doctors and nurses that took care of me at BMC. Today I feel great,” she beams.