Mother’s kidney gives daughter second chance at life

Mother’s kidney gives daughter second chance at life

By Amanda Carlson, Staff Writer

At a time when many families are busy with summer activities, one Winnebago family is trying to get life back to normal after six turbulent months that have left the family with substantial medical bills and a second chance at life.

In January 2003, Renae Leonard, 16, then a junior at Winnebago High School, was diagnosed with End Stage Renal Disease, or double kidney failure, and told she needed a kidney transplant. After tests revealed she was a close enough match, Renae’s mother Denise became the donor, and the transplant was done March 26 at University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison.

To help the family with their massive medical bills, family and friends of the Leonards are hosting a benefit from 2 to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 14, at the Verdi Club, 782 N. Madison, in downtown Rockford. Cost is $5 at the door for the spaghetti dinner, and various raffles will be held throughout the day along with a silent auction for items such as Milwaukee Brewers tickets, Chicago Blackhawks tickets and restaurant gift certificates. Entertainment includes bands, a barbershop quartet and a disc jockey.

Last winter, after Renae complained of severe headaches, Denise decided to take her daughter to the doctor. The Leonards learned that Renae’s blood pressure was 190/110, much higher than the expected range for someone her age, and Renae was immediately rushed to the hospital. Shortly thereafter, Renae was diagnosed with End Stage Renal Disease.

“I was OK with it,” Renae said. “I wasn’t really scared.”

Her mother, on the other hand, was terrified.

“I was really upset,” Denise Leonard said. “My husband and I were in shock at the thought of her kidneys failing and what was ahead for us.”

The search for a donor was next. Fortunately, the Leonards didn’t have to look very far. Renae’s father, uncle and mother were all matching blood types. All that was left was for each to go through a series of tests to find out who was healthy enough to donate. Denise went first.

“They checked for diabetes, they did blood glucose testing, they took numerous other blood tests. It was a 12-hour ordeal,” Denise said.

Doctors found that Denise, a 36-year-old mother of three, would be able to undergo the surgery and donate a kidney to her daughter. She said there was no question in her mind that she would be the one to give Renae a second chance at a normal life.

Denise remained in the hospital for four days after the March 26 surgery while Renae stayed five days.

Because of the severity of the operation and the strict stipulations that come with recovery, Renae didn’t return to school until after Memorial Day, and Denise returned to her job at Mobil June 1. More than two months without a paycheck and many months’ worth of bills has put a strain on the Leonards.

“It’s been hard with me not working,” Denise said. “Our health insurance is through my work and once my vacation time was used up, I had to start paying for my insurance premiums out of my pocket. It was really rough.”

Carl Abate, a family friend, suggested the Leonards have a benefit to raise money to help the family overcome their financial difficulties. Denise, Abate and other concerned family and friends banded together and arranged the benefit.

A trust fund has also been set up for Renae at First National Bank of Winnebago. All cash donations can be mailed to First National Bank of Winnebago, 500 N. Elida, Winnebago IL, 61088, Account No. 2002771.

Renae’s daily routine has changed drastically since the surgery. She’s taking an assorted cocktail of anti-rejection and anti- infection medication four times a day, she has blood drawn twice a week, and she has to weigh herself and take her temperature and blood pressure every day.

“I have to be more responsible now,” Renae said.

Though she’s doing well, she had to return to the hospital June 3 to have fluid around her kidney drained. There are no signs of rejection, however.

The Leonards have been overwhelmed with support from the community.

“We’ve been meeting a lot of wonderful people,” Denise said. “It’s been unbelievable how caring everyone is. It makes you realize how much people care.”

Despite missing so much school, Renae, now a senior in high school, remained current in all of her classes with the help of tutors and was able to pass her finals. She hopes to be able to play softball next season. After high school, she said she would like to attend Rock Valley College and possibly become a nurse someday.

For information on the benefit or the trust fund, call 815-335-2036.

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