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After Transplant, Jessup Resident Savors Deliciousness of Life

The right diagnosis can make all the difference in the world

For the first 39 years of her life, Vanessa DeRosa never ate Chinese food.

As someone coping since childhood with multiple challenges including chronic kidney disease, the Jessup resident had strictly avoided most typical take-out dishes and other foods high in salt and likely to cause a buildup of sodium and water in her body – an unhealthy situation that could strain her organs.

But now, this longtime patient of The Wright Center for Community Health suddenly finds herself able to savor certain aspects of life – and to sample foods that once had been strictly off-limits.

Vanessa received a kidney transplant. The operation in late April was an inspiring accomplishment, the result of a years-long team effort on the part of the patient, her family and healthcare providers to keep her kidneys functioning and appropriately filtering waste, without the need for dialysis, even as the disease entered more serious stages.

Vanessa had been routinely visiting our Mid Valley Practice in Jermyn about every three months for scheduled appointments, and she made impromptu trips for emergent issues such as infections. Notably, she also is a patient of area nephrologist Henry Yeager, M.D., with whom our primary care team frequently consulted to maintain an appropriate and coordinated care plan for her.

Her successful transplant this spring not only expanded Vanessa’s menu options, it led to improvements in overall appearance and attitude, says Luci Kura, who is Vanessa’s mother, tenacious advocate and part-time caregiver.

Vanessa’s eyes are brighter and her complexion rosier, according to her mother. Likewise, her mood has improved because her body – formerly unable to break down proteins, resulting in an uncomfortable buildup of toxins and fluid – is able to better process foods.

“And since the surgery, she has energy like you wouldn’t believe,” Luci says, laughing.

If the recovery continues to go as expected, it won’t be the first time that Vanessa, after a long and frustrating struggle, has achieved a significant improvement in her quality of life.

Wrongly diagnosed in her early years, Vanessa was told at various times and by various doctors that she had mental conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, her mother recalls. For a while, Vanessa lived in group settings where she didn’t get the appropriate treatment, Luci says. The physicians at those facilities tended to prescribe psychotropic drugs that offered only short-term, if any, relief from her symptoms and then worsened them.

“Because of her chronic kidney disease, I wasn’t happy about (the use of those medications),” says Luci. “And besides, they didn’t work. They would always have a paradoxical effect.”

Ultimately, Luci, acting on a suggestion from a friend, had Vanessa’s case reviewed by a psychiatrist who provided the diagnosis that finally made sense: autism. Luci decided to bring her daughter home in 2007, and the duo have since then made great strides together in managing the disorder.

Vanessa became a patient of Linda Thomas-Hemak, M.D., The Wright Center’s president and CEO, more than a decade ago. “Everyone at the Mid Valley Practice knows Vanessa; everyone loves her,” says Luci, a retired hairdresser. “And I just feel so welcome when I go there. I feel like part of the team.”

Luci credits The Wright Center for allowing her to be a respected partner in health decisions that affect her daughter, especially regarding medications. “The only medication she is on today is for her kidneys, the anti-rejection drug related to her surgery. But she’s not on any psychotropic drugs, none whatsoever,” Luci says. “And hasn’t been for years.”

The mother-daughter pair makes periodic trips to our Scranton Practice to meet with registered dietician Karen Papi, who provides nutritional counseling and related services.

“The Wright Center has everything,” says Luci. “They have dental care services; they have counseling. They seem to always know what’s going on in the medical field.”

For Luci and Vanessa, it probably won’t come as a surprise that The Wright Center is considering a new initiative: a stronger focus on nephrology, the internal medicine specialty related to kidney care. The specialty might one day be offered among our other needs-responsive fellowships – cardiovascular disease, gastroenterology and geriatrics – to promote wellness and to help keep more of our region’s residents living their best lives.

Vanessa currently lives in her own place, aided by a few trusted caregivers including her mother.

Luci describes her daughter as a smart, determined soul who enjoys activities such as bowling, shopping, swimming and restaurant dining. She also vacuums as a form of stress relief, which explains why the sweeper was running almost as soon as she returned home from the hospital after surgery.

Thanks to a living donor’s tremendous gift and a Geisinger surgical team’s skills, the procedure went smoothly for Vanessa. Her most visible reminders of the event include a now-deflated Batman balloon (she’s a fan of the Caped Crusader and was given a celebratory balloon soon after the transplant) and a fading seven-inch scar.

Vanessa continues to recover at home this summer and anxiously awaits her surgeon’s OK to resume all normal activities, perhaps in time for an end-of-season trip to a favorite destination, Knoebels Amusement Resort. Here’s our unsolicited advice for the trip, Vanessa: Take a few extra whirls on the carousel, grabbing for the brass ring. Go easy on the salty fries. And enjoy every moment.

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