March 8, 2019

Surprise Call Brings New Kidney for Patient With Rare Blood Type

UAMS kidney transplant surgeon Gary Barone, M.D., talks to Susan Freyaldenhoven during her follow-up visit.

UAMS kidney transplant surgeon Gary Barone, M.D., talks to Susan Freyaldenhoven

You might say life handed Susan Freyaldenhoven a few lemons, and although she was making lemonade, it was becoming a struggle.

The 45-year-old Conway middle school principal and her nephrologist had been watching her kidneys deteriorate for 20 years as she went about her career and became the mother of three boys. But over time, her kidney function dropped to 8 percent. She became hypertensive, increasingly fatigued and lost 23 pounds with a persistent metallic taste that helped ruin her appetite.

She began the process of becoming eligible for a kidney transplant realizing that her rare AB blood type would make finding a match more difficult. Susan had to go through several health screenings that took three months to complete.

“I was hoping a match could be found before having to go on dialysis,” she said.

As she coped with the illness and waited, she kept her principal’s job and maintained as normal a life as possible, even flying to Daytona, Fla., with her husband, Todd, and children to attend her sister-in-law’s wedding.

At close to 5 p.m. one day, the UAMS Transplant Team learned about an available kidney from an Arkansas donor with AB blood. But a check of the database showed that the only other match was a patient too ill for a transplant. Without a patient, the kidney would have to be sent out of state within 24 hours.

“I turned to our coordinators and said, ‘Can we have a miracle?’ recalled UAMS’ Gary Barone, M.D., kidney transplant surgeon. “I want to get someone worked up, listed and transplanted in 12 hours.”

UAMS Transplant Coordinator Fadelle Powell, R.N., checked the database of patients who were still awaiting eligibility and found Susan on the list. There were a few loose ends to be tied up, approvals needed, and some issues remained with Susan’s insurance company.

Rather than go home for the day at 5 p.m., members of the transplant team worked the phones well into the evening.

“We get one or two AB donors a year; it couldn’t wait until Monday,” Fadelle said.

Diane Richards, R.N., the UAMS kidney and living donor transplant coordinator, began making calls to find Susan. “Then I got on the phone and called the people involved in giving final clearance,” Fadelle said. “This is usually done by our Transplant Committee.”

Meanwhile, Denice Roberts, registered medical assistant and transplant financial coordinator, contacted Susan’s insurance company.

Susan recalled the surprising phone call from UAMS’ transplant coordinator. “Of course we were all shocked and surprised, and there were lots of hugs and kisses and worries and thankfulness.”

After learning that her transplant was approved Friday night, Susan and her family flew back to Little Rock the next morning and she was admitted to UAMS early that afternoon. Dr. Barone transplanted the kidney that Saturday evening.

“I am doing wonderfully. The nurses and doctors here at UAMS and my surgeon, Dr. Barone, have been fantastic.”