DOVER – After surviving a double lung transplant, a Dover woman now needs to find a donor for a kidney transplant.
Paula Roberge, praised by friends and family for always being positive, said her kidney was damaged from the medications she was prescribed following the lung transplants.
“I thought, after the double lung transplant, that I’d be home free,” said Roberge. “I asked about a new kidney, wouldn’t the anti-rejection medications I take affect a new kidney? Apparently, it is just my kidney that has the problem, so if I get a transplant, it should not happen again.”
Roberge, 71, did not bring her plight to the attention of news reporters. That was her best friend and neighbor, retired nurse practitioner Gail Dickson.
“I just want to try and help,” said Dickson. “Paula is so fun to talk to and we became best friends when we met. She has a such a sense of optimism and I so admire her positivity. She is special and deserves this help because she would and does do anything for anyone else who needs anything. She has been told there is a five-year wait. But, a person can donate, for her, or they can donate to another person in her name. Both will increase her odds of getting a transplant.”
Roberge posted the following to her Facebook page, on the chance someone might see it and be willing to be tested.
“So then this happened,” she wrote. “For some time now I’ve known that my lung transplant anti-rejection meds have been playing fast and loose with my kidney function. Unfortunately, I am now in Stage 4 kidney failure and am being prepped for dialysis and have been listed for a kidney transplant at Mass General Hospital. Pretty soon I won’t have many original parts!
“My nephrologist at Mass General has told me I need to actively start looking for a live donor for a kidney … a live donor is far more likely to be successful than a cadaver kidney.”
She noted potential donors can inquire at mghlivingdonors.org. The questionnaire will ask for her date of birth, which is Oct. 13, 1949.
“This is all kept confidential and I am not told who inquires,” she wrote. “They may give you a call to discuss the process. There is no pressure. Their goal is to give you the support and information needed to make a decision that only you can make.”
She explained the ideal donor for her would have her Type 0 blood (positive or negative doesn’t matter), and be healthy with no underlying health issues, such as diabetes, heart issues, etc. Her insurance company would pay for testing potential donors as well as the workup, surgery and aftercare.
Roberge also explained the “Trade Program” so a donor who is not a perfect match can donate a kidney in her name to another recipient on the list and move her up on the list.
She also joked about being a “feisty ol’ bird” who will handle whatever comes of this effort, even if a kidney isn’t found.
Dickson said a few people have come forward who were the right blood type, but for other reasons were not eligible.
“Her Facebook post is hilarious, but that is Paula,” said Dickson. “She can still find humor in the face of this. She says she has nothing to complain about.”
Roberge will be back at Mass General on Jan. 14, to have a fistula placed in her arm in preparation for dialysis. She hopes to not get to that point, but is philosophical and knows she might.
“I retired from Harbor Women’s Health in Portsmouth in 2015,” said Roberge, who now has her own quilting business. “I worked in administration. In April 2016, I was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Idiopathic means they do not know how I got it. It is not supposed to be hereditary, but we now know my mom, likely died from it. At the time, we had no idea she had it.”
Roberge was diagnosed the day before she and her husband John were leaving for a trip to Italy.
“I needed to bring oxygen,” she said. “I did, we went and had a wonderful, if slightly different time than we planned.”
As Roberge’s condition deteriorated, she was eventually told by her pulmonologist that she should begin to think about lung transplants.
“I thought I’d just be on oxygen for the rest of my life, but then, said OK, if this will make things better,” said Roberge. “I had a lung biopsy and was put on Esbriet. It was very expensive, but luckily we have good health insurance and they paid for most of this. I was on it for about a year and I needed more oxygen to get through the day.”
In 2018, Roberge and her husband took the train to South Station in Boston for a doctor’s appointment. She didn’t bring oxygen.
“I had to rest in the station,” she said. “It turned out my oxygen level was at 70%, where it should be about 95%. My doctor said where is your oxygen. I told him I didn’t always need it. He said I would drop dead on the sidewalk of a heart attack, and he insisted I take an Uber back to the station. We started making preparations for the transplant.”
In December 2018, Roberge was placed on the wait list for lungs. Her family and friends held a fundraiser to help with the enormous bills.
“On March 19, 2019, I got the call,” said Roberge. “Sometimes those are what is called dry runs. You get there and discover for whatever reason; it will not work, and you go home to wait again. That didn’t happen with me.”
On March 21, Roberge got her lung transplant, from an Indiana donor. She remained in the hospital and then in Spaulding Rehabilitation until May 23, when she was allowed to go home to Dover.
“It was so great,” she said. “My neighbors lined the street, with balloons and cymbals to welcome me home. My son, Darrin Sargent, is a captain in the Portsmouth police, so I got a police escort home.”
On July 1, Roberge was not feeling well when she got up.
“My granddaughter Kelsey was having her first child (Emmett),” she said. “My daughter (Diana Drew) called to tell me, and I told her I was tired and to keep me posted. She knew that was not right and called John to come home and check on me. He called my friend and neighbor Gail. She is a nurse practitioner and said she thought I was dead when she came to check.”
Roberge had pneumonia and was septic because of kidney damage. She was transported to Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover and later flown to Mass General.
“I was in the hospital for 10 days, and was so, so sick,” said Roberge. “My family later joked I was just trying to upstage Kelsey. But it was terrible.”
In August, Roberge was sick again and returned to the hospital.
“My temperature was 103 degrees and this time I was in for 12 days,” she said. “In early spring 2020, my lab numbers were so wonky regarding my kidney,” she said. “We were told I was in Stage 4 kidney failure. I need a transplant because of the antirejection meds for the lung transplant. It is specific to my kidney, so if I get a new one, it should be OK.”
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