Mary Wu’s journey with chronic kidney disease (CKD) began when she was only three years old. Her kidneys had never completely developed, a condition called renal agenesis. Mary began peritoneal dialysis as a young child, until she received her first kidney transplant from a deceased donor at the age of five.
“That’s when life really started for me,” Mary said. “I have the best childhood memories ever. It’s not a cure, but it [a transplant] is a gift. These years [surrounding my first transplant] are my parents’ story. As a parent or care partner it’s so difficult. I can’t imagine what my parents went through, especially not being born here in the U.S. and not knowing the system. It [took] a toll on the entire family.”
Unfortunately, her first kidney transplant failed at age 11. She was prepared for hemodialysis but did not have to start it because she received her second gift of life. “In May 1995, I received my second kidney transplant from a deceased donor, a little girl,” Mary said. This year Mary will celebrate the 20th anniversary of her second kidney transplant. She openly shares her gratitude for the donor families that chose donation, for her family, friends, and healthcare team.
Mary has persevered despite CKD and developing severe arthritis at a young age. She graduated from Manhattanville College and currently works at the Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center at Phelps Memorial Hospital in Sleepy Hollow, NY. She reflected on being her sister’s maid of honor recently and sharing with the new couple wisdom that she’s learned through her experiences. “I wish you challenges as you go on this journey together, because if you don’t have challenges, you don’t grow,” Mary said. “You lose your sense of gratefulness, appreciation, humbleness. It’s important to be humble, because things can change in the blink of an eye.”
“When you’ve been dealing with illness so long, you can become your illness. It’s important not to be defined by it,” Mary said. “That’s why it’s so important to have hobbies, interests, [and] a life outside of your illness. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Remember that you’re not alone. So many people feel like they’re in it by themselves, but there are people [that want to help] along the way.”
Mary volunteers for a number of nonprofit organizations, including Donate Life, Live ON NY (a New York Organ Procurement Organization), TRIO, Renal Support Network, and the Arthritis Foundation, and blogs on her website, www.thewuway.com . “I’ll talk to anyone who’s willing to listen, or maybe not even listen!” Mary said.
For National Donate Life Month and all the rest of the year, Mary’s lifetime goal is that everyone would register as an organ and tissue donor. “My dream would be that there is no waiting list,” she said. “My goal is that there is a bridge between the organ donation and transplant community and the public.”
But above all, she’s grateful for the gift of life she has received twice. “I always say, Gratitude is the greatest attitude,” Mary said. “It’s just amazing, this life! Have faith and strength, always!”
#TogetherWeCan is a continuing series of stories from kidney patients and care partners, sharing their experiences and insights.