Cheryl Green’s mother gave her life.
In 1975, Green, a 19-year-old Penn State University student, felt exhausted all the time. She figured she was staying up too late and running around too much.
Then Green suffered a full cardiac arrest. Her kidneys failed.
Fortunately, Green got to a hospital in time. Her doctors kept her going for two years. She started dialysis, and in 1977, she had a kidney transplant.
The donor was her mother, Lorraine.
Green’s own experience with kidney disease, dialysis and a successful transplant inspired a career change — and gave her a unique perspective on how treatments have changed.
“I have an 88-year-old kidney in me,” Green says today, 37 years later. “People said it wouldn’t last.”
Green, 58, works as a physician assistant at Oyster Point Family Health Center, 3045 Marietta Ave., and the Lebanon VA Medical Center. She lives in Lebanon with her two rescue dogs.
Dr. Laurence E. Carroll, who serves with Green on the Kidney Foundation of Central Pennsylvania board of directors, says her outcome is unusual for 1970s-era transplants, when just half of donated kidneys still functioned one year later.
“(Green) has not only survived but thrived and given back,” Carroll says.
But Green insists her story is “nothing special.” She was simply determined not to feel sorry for herself or take her mother’s gift for granted.
“I honestly believe that not all but some of that is based on ... how well you take care of the kidney,” she says.
Green, a Jenkintown native, says repeated childhood strep infections probably caused her kidney failure. But she will never know for sure.
At the time, kidney transplants were fairly uncommon, Green says. When it came time to find a donor, her doctors had to look no further than her mother, who was then 51.
“They didn’t know if they would use her, because they didn’t like donors over 50,” Green says.
Green’s mother turned out to be her only family match. (There is now no set age limit for donors.)
Green, then 21, had her kidney transplant April 20, 1977, at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
Two weeks after the transplant, Green’s doctors thought her body might be rejecting the kidney.
“They didn’t know if they’d have to remove the kidney,” she says. “My body just all of the sudden fought (off the rejection), and after that I did fine.”
Green stayed in the hospital for five weeks. Today, she says, transplant recipients might go home within a week.
The surgery was probably harder on her mother, Green says, but “the tough bird” returned to work as a floral designer two weeks later. Mother’s Day was coming up.
Green and her mother visited frequently during their recovery, even though their rooms were on different floors of the hospital.
“If something (bad) happened, they didn’t want you on the same floor, because that could be upsetting,” Green says.
Getting well — and giving back
Green originally planned to be a music teacher. But soon after she got sick, she met a physician assistant. Her newfound fascination with the profession only increased as she read up on kidney disease.
Green went to PA school at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. She now has worked as a physician assistant for more than 30 years. She’s also a vocal advocate for kidney disease awareness.
Every year on the transplant anniversary, she and her mother posed together for a photo. Lorraine Green died in 2012, at age 86.
“Mom and I were always close,” Green says. “Then we got even closer (after the transplant).”
Green has been mostly healthy since her transplant. She exercises, watches her diet and drinks plenty of water.
She also maintains a positive attitude, despite kidney stones and 15-plus surgeries for “annoyances.” Since her anti-rejection medicine can cause polyps, she has annual colonoscopies.
“I was raised not to be a whiner and a complainer,” she says. “Get it over with and make the best of it. I think that’s part of what’s kept me going all these years. ... I just keep going.”
In fact, Green says, her transplant has led to a lot of “fun” stuff. She competed in the Transplant Olympics and met many interesting people, including some with even “older” donated organs.
“I think it’s important that people realize there are people walking around with transplants they probably don’t even know about,” Green says.
“That’s the idea.”