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Since childhood lupus diagnosis, woman undergoes two kidney transplants

Two-time kidney transplant recipient Mary-Claire Montilus was diagnosed with lupus with nephrotic syndrome when she was just 11 years old. There is no cure for lupus and it especially affects the kidneys in children with the disease. Depending on the patient, this kidney damage can lead to kidney failure.

After 12 years of living with the disease – which typically has periods of flare-ups and remission – Montilus needed a kidney transplant. Her sister was found to be a match and donated an organ.

Dedicating her life to helping others with kidney disease

Years later, wanting to help others with kidney disease, Montilus went to work for the National Kidney Foundation of Georgia as a health educator for people who needed transplants, promoting living kidney donation.

A second bout of kidney failure

As Montilus worked to promote living donation, she learned she needed a second transplant herself.

“I wasn’t feeling so well – things were slowing down and not looking so bright for me,” she says.

After a series of tests, her doctor delivered the news: Montilus had a chronic rejection of the donated kidney and there was nothing he could do for her, aside from another transplant.

“I said, ‘You can give me the steroids, you can blow me up with all the prednisone I used to take and it’ll be fine,’” she says. “He said, ‘Not this time, kiddo.’”

“I didn’t know where my hope was going to come from.”

“I didn’t have my health anymore and I didn’t know where my hope was going to come from,” says Montilus.

Because she was an O-positive blood type, it would likely take her four years to receive a kidney from the transplant waiting list.

“That sounded like a lot, but I was willing to do it,” she says.

Montilus went back on dialysis for six difficult months.

“It’s hard on the body,” she says.

A second kidney match

Then one day, her sister called and said she had a friend named Lynette who wanted to be tested as a potential donor match for Montilus.

Against what seemed like difficult odds, Lynette was a match and Montilus was able to undergo a second transplant.

Her commitment to helping others

“Most of my life, as a sick child, I felt so broken,” she says. “I felt like a ragged doll because I was so sick with lupus and then I needed a transplant.”

She says she’ll never forget those days and is determined to help other people in her shoes. She now works at LifeLink of Georgia, the state’s organ procurement organization, with people who need transplants.

“I will always, always work for that person that I was,” says Montilus. “My life’s journey, despite the fact it was so difficult and that I needed two transplants, it led me to the place where I am now.”

For more information on kidney transplantation, visit Piedmont Transplant Institute

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