Most people are fortunate enough to have two healthy kidneys. Many others lead a normal life with just one. Canna Caldwell spent a year pushing through life with none.
Canna, a single mom of three daughters who lives in Mesa, Arizona, was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease in 1998. The condition causes kidneys to develop cysts that fill with fluid. That enlarges the kidneys and can lead to debilitating pain and serious infections. In Canna's case, her kidneys weighed three pounds each and were the size of footballs by the time physicians at Mayo Clinic in Arizona had to remove them in August 2018.
For 2½ years, as her kidneys were failing and after they were removed, Canna depended on several hours of dialysis four days a week to do the work her kidneys couldn't — filtering waste, salt and fluid from her blood. It was an experience she describes as exhausting. She managed to keep going, although Canna admits that sometimes she felt like she wasn't living at all. "I was tired of just surviving," she says.
Canna had been placed on the waiting list for a kidney transplant in 2015. But the wait wasn't easy. Canna says that, as she waited, she went through a process of grieving, comparing her journey to "stages of death."
All that finally changed on Aug. 5, when Canna received a new kidney. And with that kidney, her life was transformed.
For years, Canna's life revolved around waiting for a transplant. Due to her family medical history, and because polycystic kidney disease is hereditary, Canna's family members were unable to donate a kidney to her, and no other compatible living donor was available.
Over time, Canna's world became smaller, especially when she started on dialysis. A self-described social butterfly, most days Canna was confined to her home, which took a toll on her friendships.
"I had to be my own cheerleader. I used humor to get through."Canna Caldwell
Canna says she knew she had support, but she often felt alone. "I had to be my own cheerleader," she says. "I used humor to get through." Others thought that Canna looked healthy on the outside. But she explains that although people on dialysis may look fine, that appearance can be deceiving. "They are fighting an unseen battle on the inside," Canna says.
Her illness not only had an impact on Canna's health and relationships, it affected her plans for a career. Canna had been studying to earn a degree in social work and was considering a job in kidney transplant advocacy. With dialysis taking up much of her time and energy, however, working wasn't an option, and she had to put her college studies on hold.
But one bright spot remained. A motorcycle enthusiast, Canna coped with her condition by taking long drives on the weekends out on the open road.
The change Canna yearned for finally came on Aug. 4 at 9:30 a.m. That's when Mayo Clinic called to relay the good news that a kidney was waiting for her.
Canna was stunned. At first, she suspected it could be false alarm. She asked, "Are you sure it's a good kidney?" It was. Once Canna passed all the final evaluations, the healthy donor kidney was ready, and on Aug. 5, she underwent transplant surgery at Mayo Clinic.
Since the transplant, Canna's health has improved dramatically. Now, she's committed to helping others. During her dialysis sessions, Canna made a point of reaching out to other patients and listening to their stories. Today, her second chance at life is inspiring Canna to continue that outreach. She's sharing her story about dealing with dialysis and transplant in hopes of providing encouragement to others facing the same journey.