Finally, Jennifer Jennings of Madison Township can eat mashed potatoes.
On a more serious note, she believes now she’ll be able to complete requirements for her cosmetology license.
Best of all, she’s more confident she’ll live to see her two young daughters grow up.
“I feel very lucky,” said Jennings, 30, who recently became the 100th recipient of a new kidney at the Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Township.
Jennings, who has been battling kidney disease since age 12, is relieved to be free of dialysis, a procedure during which a machine filtered her blood for four hours every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
“The worst thing about dialysis was … well, it was a toss-up between having to find a sitter and how I felt when it was over,” she said. “I was tired. I was drained. I had no energy. Sometimes I had headaches, and I’d be nauseous.”
On June 7, about five minutes after the Lackawanna County woman returned home from her last dialysis treatment, the phone rang.
A kidney was available. The patients ahead of her on the organ transplant list were not the best matches. Finally, after six years on dialysis, including five years on the list, it was her turn.
“They said, ‘How fast can you get down here?’ I was shaking. I was crying,” said Jennings, who hurried to Geisinger to prepare for surgery.
The transplant team, Dr. Manish Gupta and Dr. Chintalapati Varma, performed the delicate operation in 3.5 hours, carefully attaching blood vessels from the new kidney to arteries and veins in Jennings’ lower abdomen and attaching its ureter to her bladder.
Only later would she find out she is the 100th transplant patient at the local medical center, where the transplant program, which began in 2006, is devoted to kidneys.
On a larger scale, the Geisinger Health System began its transplant program in 1981 at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville. System-wide, more than 1,000 organs have been transplanted, including kidneys, pancreas and livers.
While she was recovering at home, Jennings’ boyfriend, Charles Pisano, who works long hours at a local landfill, insisted on doing all the cleaning. He didn’t want her to tax her energy.
It was almost too much pampering, said Jennings, a self-described “clean freak” who wanted to take care of thevacuuming and scouring herself.
Now that she has more energy, Jennings said, she would like to finish the last nine hours of preparation she needs to earn a cosmetology license. That was a goal she abandoned more than a decade ago when she dropped out of vocational-technical school.
“I’m on SSI,” she said, “but I don’t like sitting home and getting money. I want to earn it.”
Thanks to the transplant, she expects she’ll be able to follow that dream.
Also thanks to the transplant, she no longer has to follow a potassium-restricted diet, one that put orange juice and mashed potatoes on the “don’t” list.
“I did miss mashed potatoes,” she admitted.
Sometimes she thinks about the person — a deceased donor — who was the source of her new kidney. All she knows is that he was a man in his 30s. She’s grateful to him for giving her the possibility of many long, healthy years with her daughters, 10-year-old Elizabeth and 4-year-old Isabella.
“Growing up, I had a best friend who had the same problem I did,” Jennings said. “She had a family, but she didn’t have any children, and I think that’s why she gave up. She would skip treatments. She died in January. She was 30. I was devastated, and it made me think, if I didn’t have my girls, maybe I would have given up, the way she did.”