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Kidney transplant survivor longs for normal life

Written by Theresa Campbell

After years of waiting and wondering, a young mother finally received the phone call—news to head to the hospital for a possible kidney transplant.

“I was kind of freaking out,” says Angela (Wasson) Weitzel, 32, recalling the July 25 call from Florida Hospital Transplant Institute in Orlando. “I was trying not to get my hopes up.”

Rejected as an ideal candidate just weeks before, her fear was that could happen again.

This time doctors gave the go-ahead, prepped her for surgery, and by 3 a.m. July 26, she came out of the operating room with a healthy kidney—and has been adjusting to the new organ ever since.

“I’m peeing all the time, like ever 15 minutes, but it’s a good thing,” she says with a chuckle.

She’s thrilled to be alive and not about to complain about numerous bathroom trips, twice-a-week visits to Orlando for check-ups, or that she’s takes more than 30 different medications daily for the transplanted kidney to survive in her body.

She will need these anti-rejection medications for the rest of her life.

It was back in June 2010 when she became gravely ill and moved from a hospital emergency room to intensive care with full-blown kidney failure.

Tests revealed she had Wegener’s granulomatosis, a rare autoimmune disease affecting the vascular system, and can also damage kidneys, lungs, and other organs.

Angela found little research on Wegener’s. Doctors told her certain people have a predisposition to the disease, and once they get certain infections, it causes the body to turn on itself.

While battling Wegener’s, she also was fighting chronic kidney disease, and had to go to Florida Hospital in Orlando for heart surgery and a pacemaker.

“I will always be fighting Wegener’s,” Angela says. “Since getting the kidney and being on anti-rejection meds for the kidney, it will also keep the Wegener’s at bay.”

The hope is this new kidney will last 10 to 15 years—transplant patients know a new kidney won’t last forever, and there will be a need for another kidney in the future. However, she’s drinking lots of water, eating healthy foods, and faithfully taking medications to ensure it stays healthy as long as possible.

“I have heard a lot of people say that is where they messed up–forgetting to take their medicine,” Angela says. “I’ve got like several alarms on my phone going off every day as reminders.”

Angela continues to live with her father, Bill Wasson, at Holiday Mobile Park in Tavares, her home since January 2015. She was closer to the three-day-a-week dialysis in Mount Dora she needed at the time—her weekly routine for five years before the transplant.

Almost a hundred of her father’s neighbors recently showed their support for Angela with a hot-dog dinner fundraiser. Their kindness meant a lot to the pair.

Her illness drastically altered the normalcy of the life she loved as a working mother. She had to leave her job and relinquish care of her daughters to their father and stepmother in Virginia. She also battled depression and went through periods of grief mourning the loss of her former self.

“And over the years, I have dealt with feelings that the transplant was never going to happen,” she says.

Kidney transplants are expensive. The National Foundation for Transplants reports the average costs runs about $250,000. Even with insurance, which covered the transplant, Angela is faced with mounting expenses for follow-up care and daily medications.

“Being in Florida, I know it’s going to put me in serious medical debt,” she says of the state not expanding Medicaid coverage. She may have to file bankruptcy.

However, she’s grateful to be alive. “It’s amazing,” she’s says, and has hope for the future.

She aspires to become well enough to use her business degree to work in an office again, to be near her daughters, and have a home with property to enjoy the outdoors.

“That would be my dream,” she says. “A normal life is all I want.”

About the author

Theresa Campbell

Originally from Anderson, Ind., Theresa worked for The Herald-Bulletin for many years. After experiencing a winter with 53 inches of snow, her late husband asked her to get a job in Florida, and they headed south. Well known in the area, Theresa worked with The Daily Sun and The Daily Commercial prior to joining Akers.
“I finally have my dream job. I’ve wanted to work for a magazine since I was a teenager, and I’m very excited to be here,” Theresa says. “There is such positive energy at Akers that it’s infectious.”
Theresa has three grown daughters—Julia lives in San Francisco, Emily is in Austin, Tex., and Maria is at the University of Central Florida.

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