“I have a new lease on life”
Posted on 3 May 2021
Hayley Herman is a kidney transplant survivor. She began wearing a mask and practising social distancing long before COVID-19 became a reality.
For Hayley Herman, a 45-year-old from Pietermaritzburg, being able to go for a walk – or hit a tennis ball – is a cause for celebration. This is not just because she’s survived renal failure, dialysis and a kidney transplant – she also lives with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder where her body’s immune system attacks her nerves.
“I’ve always been extremely active, playing professional tennis,” she says. “But when a sore shoulder started bothering me, I made a trip to the doctor.” Routine X-rays revealed nothing sinister – but subsequent blood tests showed her creatine levels were off the charts. Her concerned doctor referred her to a nephrologist, who immediately identified serious renal problems.
“It was a huge shock,” Hayley says. “I couldn’t understand how I could have that diagnosis.” The nephrologist explained that she needed dialysis (a process to clean her blood as her kidneys could no longer do the job) and a transplant as soon as a suitable donor kidney became available.
- “In haemodialysis, blood is circulated out of your body to an artificial kidney machine, and returned to your body by tubes that connect you to the machine.
- In peritoneal dialysis, the inside lining of your own abdomen acts as a natural filter. Wastes are taken out by means of a cleansing fluid called dialysate, which is washed in and out of your abdomen in cycles.”
“From 2012-17 I went for haemodialysis three times a week for four hours a session,” she says of her treatment. “It meant I had to live a very restrictive life as I could never really go on holiday. In addition, I had to follow a hectic diet – no cheese, coffee, takeaways or chocolate. And I was only allowed 500ml of liquid a day [including soup, ice cream and fruit) because too much liquid causes high blood pressure, shortness of breath, and, in some instances, fluid on the lungs and pressure on the heart. I constantly felt very tired and thirsty – it’s a very draining process.”
In June 2018, Hayley finally received the news she and her family had been waiting for. Doctors had found a kidney match. Following the life-saving kidney transplant, she was in total isolation at home for three months. “I had a brilliant recovery. However, because I had to take immunosuppressant medication to ensure my body didn’t reject my new kidney, I was very susceptible to infection. Since the transplant, I’ve worn a mask every time I go out – and I’ve always been hypervigilant about hand hygiene. Seems I was ahead of COVID-19!”
Just when things were looking positive in the months following her transplant, Hayley felt a strange tingling in her feet and hands. “I started feeling weak and weird – and then could no longer move my arms or legs,” she says.
After being re-admitted to hospital, Hayley spent a total of 16 weeks in ICU and high care. “I became incontinent and the pain was horrendous – I couldn’t even sleep with a sheet touching me,” she recalls.
Dr Zaheer Sacoor, a neurologist affiliated to Mediclinic Pietermaritzburg, soon made the surprising diagnosis – Hayley was suffering from Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder in which her body’s immune system attacks her nerves.
The upbeat patient underwent sessions of plasmapheresis during her time in ICU as part of her treatment. As Dr Siddique explains, plasmapheresis is a process in which the liquid part of the blood, or plasma, is separated from the blood cells. This is done to remove the antibodies in the blood and is a procedure used to treat autoimmune conditions. “Plasma is the liquid part of the blood and doesn’t have any cells,” he says. “Once the plasma is removed, fresh donor plasma is added back to the blood. This procedure removes certain proteins [autoantibodies] from the plasma that would otherwise mistakenly attack healthy cells.”
“Mediclinic staff were incredible,” Hayley says. “They arranged a special air mattress for me in ICU to prevent bed sores – and the physiotherapist was on hand every day to get me moving again. He had to teach me to walk again as I had no feeling in my legs. I was totally incapacitated. I couldn’t even use a cell phone or feed myself.”
However, in her inimitable fashion, Hayley never complained. “I have very strong faith,” says. “And my brain function is 100%. Throughout everything, I could still talk, which I’m very grateful for.”
These days, Hayley lives life to the fullest with great optimism, positivity and faith. “Since being diagnosed with renal failure, I’ve started a different chapter in my life. Going through this, I learnt that we must be grateful every day for our blessings in life. I am so grateful to my God for bringing me through all of this and be able to share this today. I was so blessed to have Dr Siddique. I’m now an ambassador for the Organ Donor Foundation and try to be as active as possible – I go for walks and play tennis and table tennis with family and friends. I am very thankful for that.”
Mediclinic recently merged with BGM Renal Care, an established renal care entity that’s a valuable addition to the broad range of services that we offer. Mediclinic will be launching a number of renal services units across the country under the auspices of Mediclinic Renal Services. Many of the units will be located in areas where these services aren’t widely available.