Meet Kidney Donor Athlete, Alyssa!

Hi, my name is Alyssa Reitano, I am a general manager of operations and lead nutrition coach for a Health and Wellness clinic located in Fort Lauderdale, FL. I am a very active person and I have a love for working out. The gym is my sanctuary, the place where I free my mind from reality for a bit. I have always been into health and fitness so it’s a big aspect of my life. If I am not at the gym I am doing functional training outside, swimming, boating, living a very active lifestyle, to say the least. I cannot sit still, sometimes I ask myself if I even know how to relax! 

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For as long as I can remember my mother has not been the healthiest member of our family. Ever since I was a little girl all the memories I have had are of my mom in and out of the hospital, and being so young you really do not comprehend what is actually going on. 

 

My mom and I did not have a very close relationship growing up, especially during my teenage years. Now fast forward, we are the best of friends and I would not know what I would do without her. She is the reason I am who I am today. Being an only child you struggle to find purpose, but during this kidney donation journey, I found mine. 

 

Five years ago, my mom had found out that she was in kidney failure and kept it from my dad and me, and the rest of the family for a very long time. In October 2018, my mom’s kidneys completely failed. Doctors told my mom that her kidneys were functioning at less than eight percent, and came to find out that my mom suffers from an autoimmune disease called Focal segmental glomeruloscerosis (FSGS). FSGS is a disease in which scar tissue develops on parts of the kidneys. Right then and there in the hospital, I voiced “My blood type is O-negative, I can donate my kidney to you, mom.” Her reply was, “No, absolutely not you will not be able to, there is no chance you won’t be a match and could have what I have.” 

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She needed to be put immediately on dialysis. She said it was the most painful, energy-draining thing she has ever been through, and with the condition of my mom’s kidneys, she needed to be on dialysis six hours a day, seven days a week. As time passed I could see in my mom’s eyes, she was getting tired. She had many issues with the ports, they would get infected, or blow causing more issues than she already had. She was still persistent in not letting me be her donor. 

 

She finally was listed for a kidney donor in May of 2019. I begged her to just let me get tested. What does she have to lose? So finally, she gave in. We set up testing. I had an appointment at Cleveland Clinic in Weston, Florida. I was told that there is a high likelihood that I would not be able to donate to her, being that it is very rare for a child to be able to donate to a parent, from what doctors told me. Well, I must be a little miracle, come September 30, 2019, I got the call that I am a match for my mama! I instantly called her, I was very scared of her reaction, but she was SO happy! Our transplant process went quickly. 

 

I went in shortly after that for my pre-operative testing and once I got the all-clear, our surgery was scheduled for November 7, 2019! Leading up to the days before surgery, I thought I would get scared but I was not. I was ready to save my mama. 

 

Its surgery day! I was more excited than fearful, I was about to give life to the person who gave me life. I went into surgery first and was in for about four and a half hours. My mama was right behind me as I was wheeled into recovery, she was going into the OR and her surgery lasted about three hours. 

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Now, settled in my room and coming to, I see my dad and my best friend there saying that I did it! I did not feel any pain just yet, due to the nerve block that was administered, but as the anesthesia wore off the pain started to settle in more and more. A couple of hours went by and we get word that the surgery was a success. My mom was okay and in recovery and my kidney was producing urine. That right there was the best moment of my life. My mom is my world, and I am forever grateful that I was able to give her a new shot at life! 

 

As night time came, the nurses asked me if I would like to get up and go for a walk. I tried to get up and the second I moved the pain was unbearable at times! I couldn’t get up and walk – it was too painful. The nurses said we should try again in the morning. I was discouraged. The pain was excruciating throughout the night but I dug deep and when the nurses came in early in the morning I gave it my all to get up. Not that walking was easy, no not at all. But I did it because I know my body and it is used to being active, not latent. 

 

From that moment on, I was asked to walk 4 times a day for about 10 minutes each. I was in the hospital for four days, and my mom was in for five. As the days went on, the pain was prominent but I did not let it get to me. The gas in my torso hurt badly! During surgery, they fill your torso with gas to make the organs easily accessible. 

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I live alone so once I was brought home from the hospital, I was on my own to get in and out of bed (my bed is quite high), to pick up things if dropped, to shower… Things you do on a daily basis that you do not think are hard to do were extremely hard to do, but I pushed through. The first couple of days being home were rough but after that, it was smooth sailing. I continued to walk 4 times a day for about 10 minutes. 

 

After two weeks, I was back in the gym, yes call me crazy but I was there walking on the treadmill on an incline for about 20 minutes a day. By my third week, I was cleared to start lifting light weights again, so I went right for it, there was discomfort but I was ok. No pain. After about the two week mark the pain subsided tremendously. Coming up on my one-month post-op visit, everything went well, doctors said I was healing great and free to introduce normal activity! I was as good as new, a little rusty, and had a little discomfort, but no complications. I am grateful for that. 

 

Before surgery, I never had energy issues. After surgery, I struggle a bit with fatigue. I get tired some days to the point where I do not want to get out of bed. I suffer from some brain fog and confusion but this all comes from the chronic fatigue that you get post-surgery due to losing a major organ and also an adrenal gland. There is no fix for this, you have to just let your body figure it out on its own and come to a normal new baseline. This could take up to a year, but it gets better with time and it WELL WORTH THE OUTCOME! I do take precautions post-surgery, only taking Tylenol and staying away from NSAIDs. I used to not question if I can take this or that and now I have to make sure that the medicine I am taking is safe for my little bean so being a little extra cautious. 

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Also, I no longer take any supplements for the gym, no pre-workout, protein powders, energy drinks. Before surgery I was vegan for about six years, now after surgery for the last three months, I have started eating meat again due to nutritional content and energy levels. My body has changed completely so a diet change isn’t out of the norm. Other than that, I am back to my normal life, stronger than I was before surgery. And the best part is I have my mom to hug every day. My heart is full, and I found my purpose and that is to help others. 

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