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Neenah woman in need of second kidney transplant after having COVID-19

Published: Dec. 8, 2020 at 5:17 PM CST
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NEENAH, Wis. (WBAY) - A Fox Valley woman is in need of another kidney transplant after having COVID-19, and she isn’t the only transplant recipient to struggle due to coronavirus.

“It was just such a miracle,” said Beth Nemecek.

Neenah’s Nemecek got a kidney transplant at UW Health in Madison just before Christmas of 2018, thanks to another Fox Valley woman’s willingness to take part in a paired donation.

But things took a turn in November after Nemecek and her husband Wayne got COVID-19.

“When I look back I can tell exactly when my kidney function decreased, because I had it about six days,” said Nemecek. “And it was like the next day, my body just - I wasn’t going to the bathroom much, anything. I started to be really worried. I had a lot of pain in the transplanted kidney, I had a lot of pain across my back.”

Nemecek says right before getting COVID her creatinine level, which measures kidney function, was around two. A healthy number is considered around one or lower.

When she got checked two weeks later after recovering from COVID, her creatinine level was above seven.

Now Nemecek’s back on dialysis, waiting for another transplant. But her and her family are trying to keep positive.

“It just was one of those things that you just live with. We’re mature enough that we’re kind of used to living with life changes,” said Wayne, Nemecek’s husband. “I love my wife very much and we continue to have fun.”

“We try to keep reminding ourselves every day babies are being born, people are getting married, people are buying houses, families are reconciling and so I just really try to appreciate the good things that are happening around us,” said Nemecek.

Nemecek’s COVID-19 complications aren’t unheard of at this point.

“That’s actually been demonstrated that kidney tissue has actual virus in it, so COVID infections directly can infect the kidney,” said Dr. Didier Mandelbrot.

Dr. Mandelbrot is the Medical Director of Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation at UW Health.

He points out that many transplant patients are on immunosuppressants to prevent rejection, which was true in Nemecek’s case.

“It impairs the immune system’s ability to fight off infections in general,” said Dr. Mandelbrot.

Even if a person hasn’t gotten a transplant before, COVID-19 can still strain more than just a person’s lungs.

“It actually affects a lot of different organs,” said Dr. Mandelbrot. “When people are very sick, in intensive care units, on breathing machines, etcetera, it’s fairly common for the kidney to be affected sort of as a secondary problem.”

Dr. Madelbrot says COVID-19 has changed how they handle care of patients right after new transplants, a time when those patients are on higher levels of immunosuppressants.

“We actually had a number of cases who had uncomplicated transplants, did great, but then went home and were exposed to a family member or visitor who had COVID and they actually had quite bad complications,” said Dr. Mandelbrot.

Just last week UW Health implemented a new policy that before a transplant recipient is sent home everyone in their household must get a COVID test.

“We’re obviously very sad when there’s a bad outcome, especially that soon after a transplant, and especially when it’s avoidable,” said Dr. Mandelbrot.

Throughout the pandemic, Dr. Mandelbrot says they’ve had to adjust which procedures they do and which ones they proceed with.

“When the numbers really got substantially worse we had to back off and some of the more elective procedures have been rescheduled for later,” said Dr. Mandelbrot. “Hopefully as time goes on and vaccination gets widespread we’ll be able to kind of go full-blast and catch-up with the more elective cases.”

Though that’s not only an issue for the transplant department.

“Hospitals throughout the country including here at UW are being filled up with patients with COVID and that makes it much harder to get beds for patients with cancer, heart disease, etcetera, any other procedure they need to get,” said Dr. Mandelbrot.

Nemecek knows because of the pandemic, and without a volunteer donor, it may be a while before a kidney is found for her. But she’s optimistic it will happen.

“I don’t know, I’ll have to wait and see what the Lord’s got in mind for me,” said Nemecek. “But I do believe that in 2021 I’ll find a donor. Maybe next Christmas.”

For now she’ll keep up with dialysis, which she has set up at home.

But what she and her family hope is that more people will consider becoming donors.

“You don’t have to be a living donor, that’s great if you want to do it, you can do it. But mark your driver’s license. Be a donor just in case,” said Wayne.

“Currently there’s over 2,000 people in Wisconsin waiting for a kidney transplant,” said Nemecek.

Learn more about kidney donation at the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS) website or by visiting the Human Resources and Services Administration website.

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