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This Gift is Definitely Not on a Normal Wish List

Health

A newlywed receives the gift of life from her new brother-in-law.

Katie and Tom snap a 'selfie' during their honeymoon to Niagara Falls in Oct. 2013.(Courtesy of Family)

Katie Bover, a 26-year-old from Hudson Falls, N.Y., received a third chance at life in November.

The first came when she was born on Aug. 27, 1987.

The second came when her mother, Ginny Rivette, donated a kidney to save her life on July 10, 1989.

The latest was when her new brother-in-law donated his kidney on Nov. 26, 2013.

When Katie was six-months-old, her mother realized something wasn't right. Katie wasn't sleeping, eating or going to the bathroom like a normal baby. Tests confirmed that Katie was born with multi-cystic kidney disease - one kidney never formed and the other couldn't function because it was covered in cysts. She no functioning kidney and her body was unable to clean toxins from her blood.

By the time Katie was eight-months-old, she was in complete renal failure.

I would know. Katie is my baby sister. I was four-years-old when she had her first transplant. We grew up together knowing that another transplant was inevitable.

Katie lays in her crib after her dialysis treatments. (Courtesy of Family)

That inevitability happened earlier this year when her donated kidney began to fail. Her new brother-in-law saved her life in November by donating one of his kidneys.

After a month in New York City, the doctors gave Katie the "all clear" to return home for Christmas. She walked back into her home, freshly decorated by her 11-year-old stepson, on Dec. 19. She won't have to return  New York City for medical appointments until after the new year.

***

When Katie was diagnosed, there was no question what Ginny and her husband, George, needed to do.

"The most vivid memory of my whole life is getting off the elevator at Albany Medical Center when she was getting admitted. There was this sign that read 'pediatric dialysis' and I wanted to vomit," Ginny said as she recounted what it was like to realize that her youngest child might not see her first birthday. "At first we couldn't transplant her because was only eight months old and maybe 15 pounds - she needed to be at least 22 pounds for a transplant. When they asked if we would consider being tested to donate, the doctor was almost hesitant, like she was afraid of offending us. We were both overjoyed that we could be considered and we both matched, but I was just the better match."

Katie doesn't remember anything from that first surgery. All she knows is that she was regularly trucked into a doctor's office where they would take vials of blood. She knew she had to take liquid medication, followed by pills, to stop her body from attacking the kidney that wasn't hers. She knew that she occasionally was really tired and couldn't keep up with other kids. She also knew that a bad cold, the flu or infection could send her back to the hospital.

[sharequote align="center"]Kidney disease is not fun. But you can't let it stop you from doing what you love to do.[/sharequote]

But none of that slowed her down. She attended dance classes, learned the piano, fought with her two sisters and drove her parents crazy with antics. She became a cheerleader in high school and, later on, an EMT. She joined a first responder unit where she met her future husband, Tom Bover. She began working for New York State and the Office of People with Disabilities providing home care to mentally and physically disabled individuals.

She lived her life just like every one else.

"To me, I felt no different," Katie said. "I was just used to going to the doctor. It was just normal and it was just a part of my life."

Katie, right, poses with a high school friend at her Junior Prom. (Courtesy of Family)

Ginny said that she could have kept Katie in a bubble, but knew that wasn't the answer.

"The day we came home from the hospital, she say the play set outside and said 'Me slide, me slide, me slide.'" said Ginny. "Every step up that slide she said 'ow' but she got to the top and said 'WEEE!' and down she went. She was so determined to do it. That's when we decided she was a normal kid."

Nothing could keep Katie down. Not until her kidney started to fail her and her body.

[sharequote align="center"]Nothing could keep Katie down. Not until her kidney started to fail her.[/sharequote]

***

Katie spent the summer of 2013 preparing for the worst: dialysis. She was also, simultaneously, preparing for the best: her wedding to Tom.

For the past seven years, Katie's health has slowly declined. Her blood tests said that her donated kidney (that turned 61 this year) was not functioning enough to properly filter her blood. Her creatinine levels were very high and her kidney was slowly shutting down.

She was losing energy, increasingly feeling sick and experiencing acute pain. She needed a new kidney. And she needed it soon.

The search for a new donor began at the beginning of the summer. Several friends and family members were tested, but a match was elusive.

One donor had too many veins running through the kidney. Katie had too many antibodies (which meant the risk of her body rejecting the organ was high) for another donor. It became even more complicated when Katie needed a blood transfusion before her own blood became too toxic for her body.

All the while, friends and family hosted yard sales to raise money to help with travel expenses during her upcoming hospital stays. While Katie's insurance would cover the doctor visits, hospital stay and surgery costs, her transportation to and from Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City and her lodging costs while she recovered and attended daily medical appointments would not be.

When a donor wasn't identified by the end of the summer, Katie decided to wait until after her wedding to begin the search anew. The recovery time for an organ transplant surgery can be long and strenuous and she wanted to focus on the good in her life and become Mrs. Bover.

Katie and Tom snap a 'selfie' during their honeymoon to Niagara Falls in Oct. 2013.(Courtesy of Family)

Her soon-to-be brother-in-law (who asked not to be named in the article because it isn't a story about him, but a story about Katie) volunteered to be tested to donate a kidney weeks before Katie married Tom on Oct. 19, 2013.

"I love my family and she makes him a better person, so I offered to do it knowing that it would help her and give them the best chance to have a future," Tom's brother said. "After doing it, I have no problem telling someone that if they have the option to do it, they should do it. The good that you do far outweighs the small amount of pain you'll feel."

[sharequote align="center"]The good that you do far outweighs the small amount of pain you'll feel.[/sharequote]

Katie said it was completely unexpected.

"I was surprised, shocked and, mostly, confused," Katie said. "He wasn't my brother-in-law at the time, he is now, but he wasn't when he volunteered. It took me almost three weeks before I could say 'thank you' to him because I couldn't find the right thing to say to him. I will never really know what else to say to him besides 'thank you.' It's such a huge gift."

Before any celebrations, though, there was a barrage of testing that both Tom's brother and Katie had to undergo. He passed all the tests and the date was set. Katie would have a new kidney before Thanksgiving.

As the surgery date approached, Katie was filled with anticipation and dread.

"I was nervous and scared. Nervous because I didn't know what to expect from the surgery and because of the risk of rejection. I was also nervous for him," she said. "The day of the surgery, when they took me to the operating room, I laid on the table and cried. I really didn't know what was going to happen and was worried that the kidney wouldn't take and I would be sicker than I was before."

But she wasn't. They both came through the surgery without a hitch.

Immediately after Katie was out, her mother posted to Facebook "Katie's out and the doctor said the kidney started working right away! WAHOO!"

***

In addition to worrying about what the recovery for Katie and Tom's brother, Ginny needed to find a place for them to stay while they inched back to health. Hotels in the New York City area are upwards of $200 a night, plus transportation to and from the hospital and meals. It was a financial burden that the family couldn't bear.

"We were able to find a place at Miracle House, and without them it would have financially devastating. We would have had to remortgage the house - we would have done it, but they made it so much easier" she said.

Located on the west side, the charity operates five, three-bedroom apartments. They charge $75 a night and are available only to families that live outside New York City that are in town for medical appointments. Ginny said that the community provided by the Miracle House and the other guests really helped in the recovery process.

"Everyone cared about the other person," she said. "It was more like a family support system, one that you'd never met and never knew you needed. Everyone there had medical issues - either taking care of someone else or experiencing it themselves. The apartment was more like home."

Katie and Tom take a ride on his motorcycle around Lake George, N.Y. in August 2012 (Courtesy of Family)

Recovery from a transplant is never easy - the body is working hard to accept and reject the organ at the same time. It's a foreign object and the body treats it that way by attacking it. Anti-rejection medication is given in large doses to stop the attack, but the outcome can change daily.

And the journey is far from over. Katie will have to visit the doctor in New York City every week until February; twice a month until June and then once a month until the transplant is a year old. Even after a year, everything could change if she gets the wrong kind of infection.

***

Katie was able to leave the city and return home on Dec. 19, just in time for Christmas. She feels stronger every day and has been able to start doing "normal" things again (like eating spaghetti with tomato sauce - which she couldn't do because of the high potassium levels in the tomatoes that jeopardized her failing kidney).

"Kidney disease is not fun. But you can't let it stop you from doing what you love to do," Katie said. "I have been able to do a lot of great thing even with the kidney disease. I have been an EMT for almost five years, and originally was told I wouldn't be able to do because of all the germs. I was also told that I would never be able to ride on the back of a motorcycle because it was to dangerous. Ya ok, Tom can never get me off the back of his."

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