In her early years, Bonnie Paschal lived a normal, healthy life. She fell in love, married, and raised two children. She enjoyed a career in design and in servicing lakes and fishponds. Today she and her husband, Wayne, are grandparents, as well as being happy servants to four cats and three desert tortoises. These days, as someone with polycystic kidney disease (PKD), Bonnie does her best to enjoy life on dialysis while also taking precautions to stay healthy during a pandemic.
When Bonnie was just 8 years old, her father died of a cerebral hemorrhage at age 28. At the time, it was all she knew about his cause of death. Bonnie, together with her two sisters and brother, were raised by their young, widowed mother. One day, out of curiosity, Bonnie’s sister Karol obtained a copy of their father’s autopsy report and learned he had PKD. According to their grandmother, he was diagnosed with kidney disease years before, at age 18, when attempting to enlist in the army. He never shared his diagnosis with his wife.
When Bonnie turned 31, she had a conversation with a friend who worked for a urologist and learned that PKD is a hereditary disease. Upon examination by the urologist, Bonnie was blindsided by her diagnosis. The recommendation was to monitor her blood pressure and use caution if a bladder infection or other abnormality arose. In the following years, she was prescribed medication for high blood pressure.
In 2010, Bonnie took on the responsibility of caring for her mother, who was diagnosed with dementia and cancer. Bonnie and Wayne enjoyed spending time traveling when they could. They looked forward to retirement and spending more time together. But in 2015, shortly after retiring, Bonnie was diagnosed with kidney failure and would require dialysis or a kidney transplant. She was 62. Her initial response was panic and fear. Retirement plans were put on hold, and she started hemodialysis.
The following year, Bonnie chose continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD) as it gave her more freedom with her treatment schedule. She no longer needed to travel to a dialysis center three times a week to sit for four hours in a chair she found uncomfortable. Doing CAPD also gave her more freedom with her diet and fluid allowances. Her taste buds came back to life.
Bonnie made the daily CAPD routine a part of her life. She does it four times a day and has each exchange down to about 45 minutes from start to finish. She is extra cautious about following the sterile connection protocols and logging all her vitals so she can review them with her healthcare team. She knows that doing so is critical to her life.
Before COVID-19, Bonnie and Wayne took advantage of the opportunities that cruising provides for those on dialysis. “Before I boarded the ship, my dialysis provider delivered all the supplies I needed for the duration of my cruise,” she says. “All I needed to do was notify my provider at least three weeks in advance. It made things easier. The ship’s staff even delivered my supplies straight to my cabin.”
The couple cruised to Mexico, the Mexican Riviera, and Alaska. They also visited Disneyland. The “Happiest Place on Earth” stored
Bonnie’s dialysis supplies at one of its first aid stations so she could do her PD exchanges onsite. These conveniences allowed her to spend quality time with her family while seeing some beautiful sights.
Bonnie carries on with grace. She is grateful for the good things in her life, like her resolute support team, including her doctors, the staff at the dialysis center, and her family.
Other members of Bonnie’s family also have PKD; her sister Lori was able to get a preemptive transplant from her partner, and her niece Jenna received a living donor transplant in a paired exchange. Bonnie knows the challenges they faced, and the knowledge she gained from their experiences helps her navigate the disease.
Family is a major factor in Bonnie’s desire to stay healthy. Her husband of 50 years is “the most remarkable man you’d ever meet,” she declares, while holding back tears of gratitude. Initially, he hoped to be her donor, but health issues excluded him. Other family members and friends stepped up to be tested, but none qualified.
Bonnie knows there is a long wait in Los Angeles to get a deceased donor kidney, so her sister Karol implemented a search campaign to help her find a living donor.
It takes diligence to learn what is required to get on a transplant list, and knowledge helps move the process along. Bonnie wants people who are diagnosed with PKD to know that it is imperative to have a brain scan, not only because a transplant team will want it, but because aneurysms can be found and dealt with proactively. After all, her father had died of one.
Today, medical appointments, monthly dialysis check-ups, and an occasional outdoor visit with her children and grandchild are Bonnie’s norm. She is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and continues to mask and maintain a safe distance from others. She looks forward to feeling the freedom of past times—participating in mahjong games and lunches with friends, fishing and camping with her kids, going on cruises, and engaging in other social activities. Until she can enjoy those pleasures again, Bonnie stays busy drawing, gardening, crocheting, and shopping online for gifts for her 2-year-old granddaughter, who is the sparkle in her eye.
Bonnie looks forward to the day she gets a kidney transplant. She and Wayne also look forward to future days filled with more family time. But for now, Bonnie reaps the rich rewards that only a formidable team of supporters provides. “Your team is everything,” she says.
Bonnie Paschal’s sister Karol set up a Facebook page she named “Kidney Donor for Bonnie.” Karol also wrote the article, How to Find a Kidney Donor to guide people advocating for care.
You can also listen to her KidneyTalk Podcast, “Tips to Help the Search for a Living Kidney Donor.”
Mary Nesfield has enjoyed a long career in magazine publishing. She is a freelance writer and editor for Renal Support Network and works from her home in Columbia, South Carolina.
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