At age 10, Jessica Snyder was diagnosed with a kidney disease known as IGA nephritis. At the outset, her prognosis was poor, and she was granted a wish through the Make-A-Wish Foundation; however, her disease became manageable with medication over the following 20 years.
All that changed Feb. 13, 2009.
Snyder had been working as a registered nurse when she suffered a massive heart attack at age 30. Untreated and misdiagnosed for an extended period, the attack was so severe it caused irreversible damage, leaving her with 20 percent heart function. The stress on Snyder's diseased kidneys also caused them to fail.
Snyder, a Calvert High School graduate, is set to receive a kidney transplant before the end of this year.
The living donor is her aunt, Sally Wagner of Tiffin. Family and friends have planned a benefit Saturday in Tiffin in hopes of generating funds to help pay some of Snyder's expenses.
Now residing in Bowling Green, Snyder spoke recently about her health challenges and the support she has received. She became disabled and required dialysis from the day of the heart attack. Despite her condition, she has been trying to provide a relatively normal life for her 10-year-old son, Coltyn. This kidney transplant could give her and her son a new chance.
"When I first began dialysis I went to a center three times a week. The last two years, I've been on home hemodialysis. I'm one of the lucky few; and it's all possible because my mom (Ann Scott) comes to my house to provide the life-saving treatments to me. Without her, I would have to return to a center. I (have dialysis) five days a week. In recent months, we have been assisted by Renee Mathias and Jen Dukes. Their being here frees up some of Mom's time," Snyder said.
Hemodialysis at home allows the patient more privacy, more control over the treatment schedule and fewer dietary restrictions. Snyder said these factors also help the person feel better overall.
A kidney transplant is the best way for her to survive, but she is considered a sensitized patient. The multiple blood transfusions she received after the heart attack flooded her body with antibodies. That puts her at increased risk of rejecting a donated organ.
Snyder checked into transplant programs at Cleveland Clinic, Ohio State University and elsewhere. None gave her much hope.
Then, she discovered Dr. Robert Montgomery and the incompatible kidney transplant program at Johns Hopkins, the only one of its kind. The program has achieved success with high-risk patients through medications and other treatments before and after the transplants.
The next step was to secure a donor.
Snyder's aunt agreed to give a healthy kidney to her niece. Snyder said she is touched at Wagner's willingness to give the gift of life with no benefit to herself.
"She would do this for anyone, if it was God's plan. She is such a selfless, loving and caring woman. She is a role model for so many already. I will never be able to express my gratitude for her. She always knows what to say when I need it the most and she never loses faith. She is such an inspiration to me and I love her so very much," Snyder said.
She also expressed appreciation to Wagner's husband, Mark, for going along with his wife's decision.
Snyder said family, friends and people she never has met have formed an "unbelievable" support system for her. In an effort to avoid being a "burden" to anyone, Snyder hesitated to talk about her serious health issues. She said loved ones tried to respect her wishes, but they encouraged her to tell her story beyond the family.
"Although it's been difficult, they have been key in me sharing my story. It's difficult to share (publicly) such intimate details about myself, and I would have never been able to go through with it without my friends and family. Once I started sharing, I couldn't believe all the support, encouragement and prayers that started pouring in and continue to do so. People are amazing," Snyder said.
Coltyn attends Bowling Green Christian Academy, and Snyder said the staff and families connected to the school also have been supportive. They have offered many prayers for Snyder and Coltyn. Her mother's employer and co-workers have made adjustments so Scott can take care of her daughter and grandson while continuing to work and keep up her own household.
"Mom makes many sacrifices for me. She gets to my house early in the morning and does my dialysis (usually about four hours from start to finish). Then she heads off to work, usually returning home late. She has a family at home, as well. My stepdad, Jonathon Scott, and my sister, Ellie Scott (17), have been more than supportive and understanding on my need for Mom's time and attention," Snyder said.
At the time of this interview, Snyder was waiting for a call from Johns Hopkins to set the date of surgery for her and Wagner. If a good match becomes available sooner from a deceased donor, she will accept that organ.
After the surgery and recovery, the first thing Snyder plans to do is "something special" with Coltyn. He wants to have a "No More Dialysis" party. Later, mother and son hope to go "on a real, no dialysis, relaxing get-a-way."
Beyond that, Snyder already has signed on with the American Heart Association to be one of their speakers for 2013. Her topics are to be women and heart disease and young people and heart disease.
"I don't know how much physical stuff I'll be able to do after the transplant," Snyder said. "This past summer, Coltyn and I did some volunteer work at a local nursing home. We both enjoyed volunteering, but it was physically too much for me. I look forward to feeling much better after the transplant. Unfortunately, according to the Hopkins cardiologist and transplant surgeon, my heart function is not likely to improve."
Because she will be susceptible to infections, Snyder probably will not be able to work in a hospital. She has contacted Donate Life Ohio about doing some volunteer speaking for them and possibly working in organ procurement.
Saturday, Snyder plans to be present at the benefit and hopes to have Coltyn with her. She may be a little late because she wants to stop at the benefit for Nick Hunter, whose heart transplant took place in September.
"Our support system is there whenever we need them, whether to pick Coltyn up from school or extra-curricular, be with me at an appointment, run errands, help with daily tasks we all take for granted, and to do things with Coltyn I am unable to physically do with him, They do so much, I will never be able to list it all; mainly, the all have unconditional love for Coltyn and me. Its the best feeling in the world," Snyder said.