Theater motivates teen in need of kidney transplant
New Albany High School student suffers from polycystic kidney disease, must soon begin dialysis
Seventeen-year-old Haley Wilson has not let the need for a kidney transplant slow her down.
"I'm still just like a normal teenager," she said.
Though Wilson has missed much of her junior year at New Albany High School and Metro High School because her illness makes her tired, she still plans to attend college to study theater and perhaps another major. She currently attends New Albany High School in the mornings and Metro High School's Mosaic program at First Congregational Church in Columbus in the afternoons.
Wilson has been part of the New Albany High School drama department since she was a freshman. She said she started directing productions last year.
She is scheduled to co-direct William Shakespeare's As You Like It in the spring and the musical version of Little Shop of Horrors this summer, even though she soon is expected to start kidney dialysis for four hours a day three times a week.
Dialysis diffuses waste from and filters water from blood in the body, a normal function of the kidney, according to the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Dialysis is considered a temporary solution, especially in Wilson's case. She suffers from a genetic affliction called polycystic kidney disease.
Wilson said she has a large number of cysts on her kidneys, which is how doctors initially determined she had the disease.
While on vacation the week before school began in August, Wilson said, she felt ill. After a few visits to the doctor, she was diagnosed with PKD.
She said she was not surprised because her mother, aunt and older sister also suffer from the disease.
But her case is different: Her kidneys are about twice the size of healthy adult kidneys and are pressing against other organs, causing further complications.
"It's particularly aggressive in my case, and doctors told me it is the worst case they've seen in anyone my age," Wilson said. "My stomach is a lot smaller and if I eat a lot, I just get sick because I don't have enough room to hold that."
Her mother, Lori Wilson, is all too familiar with what her daughter is about to go through: She already is on dialysis.
Dialysis "is really rough on your body," she said. "Your kidneys work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The dialysis filters for four hours, three days a week. Toxins can build up in you and that can cause other issues."
Haley Wilson said dealing with PKD is difficult, especially after watching her mother suffer from the disease.
"It's something I always feared and now it's happened in the worst way I could have imagined," she said.
Because Haley is young and both her enlarged kidneys must be removed, the Wilson family is seeking a living donor.
Haley's doctors have recommended that course of action.
"We prefer live donors, especially in young people, because it's easier to do in a timely fashion," said Dr. Mitchell Henry, chief of the transplant division at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Henry said 116,000 people nationwide are waiting for kidney transplants.
He said many transplants come from recently deceased organ donors, and people on the donor list might have to wait three to four years to receive a transplant.
If a living donor is located, the surgery can take place as soon as the match is made.
In this case, he said, the transplanted kidney will function longer.
"A live donor kidney will function for a longer period of time than a deceased (donor) kidney," Henry said.
Lori Wilson said her daughter can only accept a kidney from a person with type O blood. No one in her family is an eligible donor.
"It's a huge decision to give a young person a kidney," he said. "But she's a young person who's got her whole life ahead of her. People can easily live with one kidney."
Still, Henry said, finding a living donor from outside one's family is not uncommon.
"Sixty to 65 percent of the population has type O blood, which means there is a good chance to find someone to donate," Henry said. "A lot of people do it based on the fact that it's the right thing to do and they know how someone would benefit."
The Wexner Medical Center has a program for potential living kidney donors. For more information, call 614-293-6724 or 800-293-8965 and choose option three.
While Haley Wilson recognizes she has many challenges ahead, she is staying positive as she waits for a solution.
"I feel like I am growing from this experience and becoming a stronger person," she said. "If I can get through this so early in my life, maybe it will be easier in the future."
She said that future almost certainly will include directing, and the drama department at New Albany High School helps her move one step closer to it, one day at a time.
"Directing is like my greatest passion," she said. "It's everything I love combined: working with people, visual art, telling a story ... music, so many different things ...
"My life is so dull between shows. I get so bored and so restless, like life has no purpose."