The phone call came at 5 p.m. on August 8 from Shelley Chapman, a kidney transplant coordinator at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
At a friends house, 18-year-old Abbi Strack thought she was kidding that they had found a match for her kidney transplant. After all, she had just been at the doctor the day before making appointments to start dialysis.
“We don’t really joke about this,” Chapman told Abbi.
And then Abbi realized she had to get to home so she could go to the hospital to get a new kidney.
Abbi has had issues with her kidneys and bladder her whole life, but she was admitted to Children’s Hospital ICU after her kidneys started to decline and she had a blood pressure of 210/180 and an enlarged heart when she was in sixth grade.
Doctors diagnosed her with stage four kidney failure during her senior year. Staying active playing for the Horlick Rebel football team all four years helped keep Abbi’s weight down. Most of the time she was just a kid with bad kidneys.
“I was the healthiest sick kid they’ve ever had,” Abbi said.
So when Abbi, her dad John Strack Jr., and her mom, Jan Strack, arrived at the hospital at 6:30 p.m., a steady stream of doctors, nurses and technicians started taking vials of blood, chest x-rays and urine samples, and asking questions.
A woman with a wheel chair waited in the room while a nurse continued to ask questions.
“I was trying to keep up with everyone,” she said. “Can you come in one at a time?”
But the luxury of time was gone as doctors also prepared to recover a kidney from a donor she is now connected to forever. Before she knew it, it was midnight and as she tried to sleep, reality set in.
“Someone died, you have to kind of be happy about it because they saved your life, but it’s also a weird feeeling because you’re happy and sad, too,” Abbi said.
“Is she laughing or having a seizure?” the doctor asked the anesthesiologist.
“She’s laughing,” he said.
After the surgery, Abbi woke with a stomach ache that was the worst pain she had ever felt, but it was done. The doctors didn’t replace her kidneys; they added a third one and kept the other two because they aren’t dead, just very low functioning.
Looking back, Abbi realizes the gift she has received.
“Over the years I’ve thought if i could wish away health issues, a lot of times I think I would. Who doesn’t want to be healthy. But after feeling better, now that it’s over, I realize I wouldn’t change it because it made me who I was,” Abbi said. “Having a kidney transplant and playing football I was able to reach out to more people and tell them, you are able to still do this. Don’t just give into your health issues.”
Even though her doctors say she’s doing well, chances are good that Abbi will likely need another kidney transplant in her lifetime. The kidneys of deceased donors have roughly half of the life of organs from living donors; 12 to 15 years.
For now, though, Abbi is focused on her future and has started taking online classes at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She’s only taking two classes, but expects to be back in school full-time in the spring to get her degree in nursing with a minor in psychology.
“(Nurses) are the first face you see and as a patient I know firsthand that they can really change your attitude about being in the hospital,” Abbi said. “I had really great nurses and doctors at Children’s Hospital. They drew pictures with balloons for me, and brought me videos because when you are 18 years old, Disney movies just don’t cut it.
“But I plan on using everything I’ve gone through in hospitals so that I can talk to kids and help them because I can relate to them because of my experiences.”