Sue Andrews, 64, owes her life to a compact machine that sits on a table upstairs in her Rancho Palos Verdes home.
At 8:30 each evening, Andrews retires to her bedroom, hooks herself up to the peritoneal dialysis equipment and stays there until morning while its tubes deliver a cleansing fluid that washes wastes from the inside lining of her belly.
The machine does the work in place of her kidneys, both of which have been removed.
But the dialysis is rough on her body and Andrews can't rely on the machine forever. The clock is ticking.
“I need a kidney,” said the petite woman with expressive blue eyes. “I need that kidney bad.”
The current wait for a kidney on the California transplant list is nine years, according to Andrews, and she is only one year into her wait.
At the urging of her doctors, Andrews is trying to find a living donor. According to the National Kidney Foundation, one of biggest barriers to finding a kidney donor is that patients have a hard time asking.
Andrews is taking that crucial first step.
She thought her older sister, Valorie, would qualify, but she was ruled out on a final test.
“Valorie was always very protective of me; we are so close,” Sue said, sadly. “I was hanging my hopes on that and when it didn’t work out—it was hard.”
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As a child, Andrews was diagnosed with Tuberous Sclerosis a rare genetic disease that causes the growth of non-cancerous tumors in vital organs. In 1995, tumors showed up in one of her kidneys. Doctors had no choice but to take that kidney out.
Fifteen years later, more tumors caused a partial removal of her one remaining kidney.
Andrews lived for years with only one partial kidney.
“There were no direct consequences to it," said the human resources specialist for the City of Torrance, "No change in food, no change in lifestyle, I was working, we were traveling and aside from a quarterly doctor’s appointment there was nothing, no change.”
Unfortunately in 2017 Andrews showed signs of decline. She was diagnosed with End Stage Renal Disease.
After a stint of using the more drastic hemodialysis, where blood is recycled out of the body, into an artificial kidney machine and back, Andrews was placed on the current regime of peritoneal dialysis.
“I was able to train for dialysis on my lunch hour at the US Renal South Bay Home. I started on the machine in September. I was doing great! Roughly eight hours on the machine at night at home and in the morning, off to work.”
But there are plenty of limitations, including risk of infection at the catheter site.
“I can take a shower, but I can’t bathe," said Andrews. "Can’t be in the tub, can’t be in the Jacuzzi, can’t be in the pool. That’s kinda hard, you know? You’re looking out the back window on a hot day and you see the pool…”
After her ESRD diagnosis, Andrews chose Cedars-Sinai as her transplant center.
She submitted her documentation, but was told that it couldn’t be processed because she had a hyperdense cyst in her partial kidney.
The center needed to know if it was cancerous—and if so, whether it was aggressive or low grade. Andrews realized the only way to get on the transplant list was to have her remaining kidney removed in April 2018.
“It was hard when they took the last part of my kidney out because then I had none," said Andrews.
"Up to that point I had function, minimal but I had function. If I missed a dialysis, well no real big deal. There wasn’t the fear factor of dialysis, transplant or death. But when you don’t have kidneys, they tell you right up front—you make your choices.”
Andrews' husband Larry supported her through those harrowing days on hemodialysis. Andrews said she dreaded going.
“It was freezing cold in the room, they give you blankets, but at the end of the session I would almost crash," she said. "My blood pressure would drop, they’d give me saline and I’d have to sit there until it came back up."
Andrews said her nephrologist would meet the couple in the parking lot on Thursday mornings after her treatment and encouraged her to keep going.
“These were the darker days, but I did dodge a bullet as kidney pathology report came back as low-grade-cancer and I was cleared for the transplant list."
With the help of a living kidney, Andrews hopes to return to one of her first loves: traveling, where she met Larry.
“I was ‘dot dot dotting’ my way around the world,” she said, smiling. “And in 1996 on a British Isle cruise, I was in the lounge listening to music and Larry asked me to dance. We’ve been together for 23 years.”
“We’re a good team,” Larry said. “I’m lucky I found her.”
The couple married in 2002 and she acquired an instant family—two adult children and three grandchildren.
It's taken Sue time to ask for help, but finally, she asked to be placed on the prayer chain at her church, Ascension Lutheran.
“Now when I’m there,” she said, “people are constantly saying, ‘Sue, we’re praying for you.’ A feeling comes over me and I realize, yes things are happening. I don’t know what because things don’t always come out the way I want. I’m not in charge. I’m not in charge.”
After that, she also began sharing her situation with her co-workers.
“If I’m sick in the morning, I just wipe my eyes off, clean up and put myself in the car.
"You gotta keep moving,” said Sue.
Because Cedar Sinai participates in paired and chain donation, your blood type does not have to match to donate.
To learn more about being tested, visit the Facebook page A New Kidney for Sue Andrews.