Blessed Gift of Life

In honor of Asian Pacific Heritage Month, Hae Young Kim shares her story of hope to educate and inspire her community.

Hae Young Kim at the Transplant Games

It has been 29 years since I received a Kidney Transplant! My journey began in the summer of 1985. We had only been in the United States for five years. We finally felt settled and comfortable living in America and we received our United States Citizenship! In June of 1985, I became very sick, but my parents thought I may have been just tired from the school year. About a week later, my parents took me to a local clinic, where they ran some tests and told us to go to Franklin Square Hospital immediately. I was admitted and doctors ran more tests. I was diagnosed with End Stage Renal Disease and was referred to a Pediatric Nephrologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

We were all stunned, confused and concerned about how to even take this news. We never expected a major and chronic illness in the family since our family and relatives were all healthy. At this time, my parents and my aunt were not sure what to expect since they did not understand how the health system worked in United States. We had no insurance!

I missed many days of school in middle and high school years. I did not know whether I would even make it through high school and graduating did not seem like a reality to me at that time. I was placed on Peritoneal Dialysis. My sister and I were trained to do dialysis and take vital signs. She was 15 and I was 14 years old. I had to do dialysis 4 times a day, take vital signs and record them every day! My sister helped with the first and last dialysis so that I would not be overwhelmed.

Hae and her family

 During this time, my family and I received so much support from my doctors and renal nurse at Hopkins as well as support from other families who had children with End Stage Renal Disease. Even though my parents did not speak English, the families were so welcoming and reached out to us. I met many wonderful friends and other families going through similar health issues. My doctor was able to find a Korean doctor who spoke English and Korean to come to all my appointments to inform my parents of everything and made sure they understood! As for insurance, it was another blessing that we became U.S. citizens because I was qualified for Medicare and the Kidney Disease Program to help with the cost of medical bills. Johns Hopkins billing office also helped by working out a payment plan!

Friday, October 13th, 1989, was an amazing blessing. I received a call from Johns Hopkins that a kidney was available! I was excited, nervous, scared, sad, and overwhelmed all at the same time. My surgery went well, and my new kidney started working right away! Unfortunately, I had complications after three weeks. I was back to the hospital where I had more procedures, infections and surgery! I was in the hospital for another 7 weeks. Slowly over time I felt stronger, healthier, and best of all was free from doing dialysis 4 times a day, taking vital signs, and recording them every day! What a difference it made having a kidney transplant!

I graduated from high school, went to college, received a degree in early childhood education and became a teacher. Later, I went to grad school at Towson University where I received my master’s degree in Reading Education. I was so thrilled, as was my family! Baking delicious desserts, going on road trips, spending time outdoors (especially at the beach), and spending time with my family and friends became my favorite things to do!

Over the years, I found incredible joy staying connected to the transplant community. I joined and found great support from Team Maryland, TRIO Maryland, and by participating in Transplant Games of America by competing in track and volleyball! Working at a school also gave me a wonderful opportunity to teach my students to give and help others by making goodie bags/ornaments for the pediatric renal clinic at Hopkins. I have also enjoyed being part of the Stepping Out program, a mentor program to help adults who have received a transplant and volunteer as counselor for Camp All Stars, a camp for kids with Kidney Disease/kidney transplants at Hopkins!

I am so grateful and blessed to have my amazing doctors and nurses! I appreciate all my friend’s and family’s thoughts, prayers, encouragements, and laughter though all the years of ups and downs!

Want to save the lives of people like Hae? Learn more and register to be an organ, eye, and tissue donor at www.donatelifemaryland.org.

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