In need

Alyssa Sandeen, shown here last year in front of her high school graduation celebration poster, lived a normal life for more than 10 years after her heart transplant. Now, anti-rejection medication has reduced the function of her kidneys and she needs a transplant.

File photo
The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Eleven years ago on Sept. 4, at the age of eight years old, Alyssa Sandeen received a second chance at life through a heart transplant.

Since that day she has been living a normal life including competing in dance for six years, graduating from high school, working and starting college. Her “second birthday” should be something to celebrate, but instead Alyssa is faced with a new challenge. She now needs a kidney transplant.

The anti-rejection medication she has been for her heart transplant has weakened her kidneys.“The doctors at Mayo told us that regardless of what kind of transplant you have, the anti-rejection medication can be very harmful to the kidneys,” said Alyssa’s father Chris. “And there are no alternative medications out there.”

She visits the doctor every four months to monitor her health and the functions of her new heart.

Over the last year doctors have watched a decline in the function of Alyssa’s kidneys, which currently function at 19 percent. She now has to travel to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester every week for checkups. Alyssa is also on the kidney donor list, but still faces a wait of up to 3 years.

“She doesn’t have a lot of time,” said Chris Sandeen. He has been tested to see if he is a match but has not received the results back yet. If a donor is not found within 6 months, Alyssa will have to go on dialysis, something she is not looking forward to and hopes to avoid.

Although most people are born with two kidneys, only one is needed to sustain life. In Alyssa’s case, both kidneys are failing. A donor can be a blood-relative or they can be a non-related individual such as a spouse, friend or acquaintance. Potential donors should be in good physical and emotional health and they must be over 18 years of age.

The stress has taken its toll on Alyssa. “I’m tired of the weekly trips to the doctor and lately I find myself wondering why me?” She stated. “There’s so much in life I want to do and see. I want to have a career, travel, get married. There is so much in life to look forward to.”

Alyssa admits she is scared but her attitude remains positive. “If you hold your head up, the only way you can go is up.”

In addition to Alyssa, the Sandeens also have three more children, Rachel 15, and twins, Logan and Sierra 11. Although both of Alyssa’s parents work outside the home, the financial end of this new development is taking its toll on the them. “We’re still struggling to pay the medical bills from her heart transplant,” said Alyssa’s mother, Lisa. “I don’t know how we are going to manage with these new bills.”

Because of those financial difficulties Alyssa has had to put college on hold. Instead she is working two jobs in hopes of saving up enough money to return to school and get a degree. Although her career choice is undecided, she has been considering becoming a paramedic, a career she feels is not only exciting but heroic as well.

Though the Sandeen’s future is filled with uncertainty, they are extremely thankful for the support from family and friends as well as the community throughout the years. “Even after 11 years, strangers still come up and ask me how Alyssa is doing,” Chris stated.

As Chris and Lisa eagerly await a donor for their daughter, they are reminded of that miraculous night 11 years ago when a heart became available at the last possible moment and saved her life. They hope that once again they will be blessed with the miracle of a donor. The importance of organ donation awareness has once again become a major factor in their lives.

Nationwide about 55,000 people are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant; and about 3,000 die every year while waiting for one. In 2008 there were 185 kidney transplants performed at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. That was down from 253 in 2005. Mayo Clinic is one of the five largest kidney transplant centers in the United States, and the largest living donor kidney transplant program.

If you would like to see if you are a match or get more information on donating, call medical staff at Mayo and ask for either Therese Moore or Kay Kosberg at 866-249-1648 or 507-266-7868.

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