Valley postal carrier back on route after transplant

Gardnerville postal carrier Melissa Vickers will be back on her route Saturday after undergoing a kidney transplant on June 2.

The 29-year-old Douglas High School graduate said she was diagnosed when her kidney function dropped to 15-20 percent in 2004.

"In the beginning of 2004, I started getting sick," she said. "They had to do a biopsy of the kidney. That was when I was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy."

Vickers' kidneys stopped working entirely in March 2006 and she had to go on dialysis.

"Everyone who goes on dialysis goes on Medicare, which really helps with the cost," she said.

There is no kidney transplant hospital in Nevada, so Vickers had her choice of California Pacific Medical Center, Stanford, or University of California, Berkeley. She started out at California Pacific, but later transferred to Stanford. The clock started ticking on her transplant in October 2006.

"When I transferred, I didn't have to start all over again," she said. "I'm A-positive blood type and they have a way that tells you a rough estimate of how long you have to wait. For a kidney it's 6-8 years for Stanford."

At that point it was time to wait, undergoing dialysis 3.5 hours a day, three times a week.

"It turned into traveling to Carson and back five hours a day," she said. "It puts you under a lot of stress of trying to work and doing the best you can and still making it to dialysis."

Vickers said the stars aligned for her to be able to keep doing her job and making it to dialysis.

"I was lucky that my circumstances allowed for it," she said. "If any one little thing had been different I wouldn't have been able to do it. I have the smallest route as far as customers I deliver to. If I'd had any other route, it wouldn't have worked. I also had a lot of support from my supervisor, the postmaster and all my co-workers."

Less than four years later, a kidney that was a perfect match came through.

"I only had to wait half the time," she said. "The kidney came from the other side of the country. They try to keep the donor information hush, hush. But I do know it came from a cadaver."

On June 2, 7:30 p.m., Vickers got to stop doing dialysis and start life again with a functioning kidney.

"It was a zero mismatch kidney," she said. "They test things like tissue, blood, antigen type, and it matched on everything across the board. That means I'm less likely to reject it and I need less anti-rejection medication."

The kidney Vickers got was a big one, so her recovery time was shortened by a month.

"The usual recovery time is three months, but I'm going back to work a whole month early," she said. "It's partly because of my age, and partly because I got an unusually large kidney, which is almost like having two brand new ones. It processes toxins much quicker, which helped my recovery go faster."

Vickers' co-worker is Theresa Tierney, whose twin brother received a new liver 31⁄2 years ago.

"I've become an avid organ donor proponent," Tierney said. "We can all help by being organ donors and help promote it to inspire others. An average of 18 people die each day from the lack of available organs for transplant."

Nevadans may sign up as organ donors when they renew their drivers licenses.

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