Growing up, 19-year-old Wade Washington knew he’d one day need a kidney transplant. The question was never if, but when.
“I never really knew what normal was,” said Washington. “I was born with chronic kidney disease, and so it was what I was used to.”
As a child, Washington’s condition was manageable, but as he grew up his condition worsened. As Washington hit puberty, his kidneys began to fail.
“Wade was born with renal dysplasia, a congenital malformation of his kidneys,” said Dr. Andre Dick, surgical director of the Kidney Transplant Program at Seattle Children’s. “Once he entered puberty, his kidneys couldn’t meet his body’s metabolic demand. We knew he’d need a transplant.”
Kidney failure, also called end-stage renal disease (ESRD), occurs when an individual’s kidneys no longer remove waste from the blood or control salts in the body.
In 2011, Washington was placed on the transplant list. As his kidneys continued to fail, his health declined. All he could do was wait.
Seattle Children’s Pediatric Kidney Transplant Program is recognized as one of the top five in the nation in terms of patient and graft survival outcomes in the U.S. and is the only pediatric kidney transplant program in the Pacific Northwest. Currently, there are more than 100,000 people in the U.S. waiting for a kidney, according to Donate Life.
Waiting for a match
Unfortunately, finding a match for Washington turned out to be harder than anticipated because he was highly sensitized. According to Dick, highly sensitized individuals have a harder time finding a donor match, meaning Washington would need to wait longer to get a kidney.
“His kidneys were failing, but every donor we had come forward wasn’t a match,” said Patricia Washington, Wade’s mother. “He wasn’t an easy case. We had relatives fly out, but still no one was a match. We relied on our faith and the team at Seattle Children’s.”
In July 2013, Washington had to be put on dialysis. Without dialysis or a kidney transplant, fluid and waste products build up in the body and can be fatal.
“Dialysis is not a permanent solution,” said Dick. “It’s a bridge to transplant. You don’t want anyone to be on dialysis for too long, especially pediatric patients. You try to get them to transplant as soon as possible.”
Balancing health and school
Washington’s school work was impacted as a result of dialysis. He shifted his class schedule so his hard classes were in the morning when he had the most energy and often he needed to leave school early. He was on dialysis three days a week for up to three hours at a time.
“The whole period I was really difficult, but after a while it soon became routine,” said Washington. “Luckily, the school was very supportive of me.”
Washington’s dialysis regimen increased incrementally. He needed to be on dialysis more often and for longer periods of time as his condition worsened.
In November 2013, it became clear that Washington was in dire need of a transplant, but they still had no match.
However, on Nov. 11, 2013, Washington’s luck shifted. His family received the phone call they had been waiting for, but there was one caveat.
“The care team told us they had a kidney, but I was the back-up recipient,” said Washington.
Again, they waited. A day later, at 1 a.m. in the morning, they received another call.
“I remember everything,” said Washington. “My parents came into my bedroom and said ‘We have good news!’”
The kidney was a match and it was his.
“We’re forever grateful to the donor family,” said Patricia Washington. “He got another chance because of them and our hearts will always go out to that family. During their loss they made a commitment to save someone else.”
A new lease on life
The transplant was a success and Washington recovered well.
“I never had any energy before the transplant,” said Washington. “After, it was like a light bulb had been turned on. I was able to concentrate more and think through complex processes. I’d never been able to do that before.”
Washington got a new lease on life and a new perspective as well.
“I remember thinking about the kidney I got that wasn’t a match for someone else,” said Washington. “It really stuck with me. They got a phone call and someone else was told they’d have to wait. I also thought about all the other kids on dialysis. It really impacted me.”
It was Washington’s empathy that led him to begin thinking seriously about a career path in medicine, specifically to become a transplant surgeon.
“I want to wake up every day doing a job I enjoy,” said Washington. “I know what kids waiting for a transplant are going through. I’ve been there.”
A bright future
Today, Washington is freshman at the University of Washington. He was able to graduate on time from high school and is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in biology.
“Wade is a very bright kid,” said Dick. “He’s highly motivated and I have no doubt he’ll reach his goal. If he continues to work hard, he can achieve anything he wants to achieve.”
“I was given a new life,” said Washington. “I’m going to make the most of it and not let it go to waste.”
For all the individuals waiting for a transplant, Washington had these words of encouragement.
“The best tool you have mentally is resilience and persistence,” said Washington. “You can’t just quit. You have to keep your head up and never give up.”