Philadelphia woman seeks kidney donor for life-saving transplant

Shemeka Sinclair was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus at the age of 18.
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Most of us have obstacles to overcome—that’s life.

We wake up, we start our day maybe by working out or making breakfast, we go to work or take care of kids, we go out with friends or get nervous for a first date—it’s all just a part of a “normal” life despite the curveballs that may be thrown at us.

However, that’s not the case for everyone.

For Philadelphia’s Shemeka Sinclair, 35, days have provided more than just obstacles recently, they’ve been full of fighting for her health and for her life. At age 18, Sinclair was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks its own tissues, causing widespread inflammation and tissue damage in the affected organs.

“Lupus has affected different organs in my body, but it has mainly affected my kidneys,” Sinclair explains. “In 2016, I was diagnosed with stage four kidney failure. Although I have changed my diet to stabilize my kidney disease, I am now at end-stage kidney disease. My kidney levels are decreasing fast, with only 9% kidney function.”

In November of last year, Sinclair had surgery to place a catheter in her abdomen to start Peritoneal dialysis (PD)—something that she still has to deal with every day almost a year later. Most of us use coffee or yoga to get us through a stressful day. For Sinclair unfortunately, those little pick-me-ups won’t be able to keep her healthy. She needs the dialysis to be able to live her life, but the effects leave her tired—so much so that she had to quit her job and can’t do the normal everyday luxuries that most of us undoubtedly take for granted.

“I started my first treatment of Peritoneal dialysis on Dec. 7, 2020. Dialysis treatment is currently two times a day, seven days a week,” she continues. “Dialysis is a temporary life-saving treatment, but a transplant from a living kidney donor would offer me more freedom and the ability to live a longer, healthier, more normal life. I desperately need a life-saving donor to save my life.”

Sinclair is on a list for a deceased donor, but that could take up to 6-8 years—time she simply does not have. The only solution is a living donor.

“That’s my best chance of survival. Most of my family have been tested, but none of them are a match to donate. My wish is to find a living donor, I want to live for my family,” Sinclair explains. “Since I have type O blood type, I can only receive a kidney from [a] type O person. However, if a donor has an incompatible blood type, a kidney paired exchange program becomes an option.”

The “kidney paired exchange” programs allow donors to be paired and matched with other incompatible pairs, which means you don’t have to be just type O blood. Sinclair’s family members were denied for unknown occurrences (there could be a number reasons that someone can be denied) but it’s likely that there are people out there that are a match without even knowing. Penn Transplant Institute is a leading center for kidney paired donation (KPD) and for living donor kidney transplantation, and the cost will not fall on the donor.

So, how can you find out if you’re a match? You can contact the Penn Living Donor Kidney Transplant Program at 215-662-6200. Sinclair is listed there at Penn Medicine Transplant Institute.

A few facts to note, which might make the process a bit easier, or, take some stress off of the decision: Most donor surgery is done laparoscopically, meaning through tiny incisions. The recuperation period is usually fairly quick, generally two weeks and the cost of your evaluation and surgery will be covered by Sinclair’s insurance. The hospital can give you extensive information on this. Potential donors will also have a separate team of healthcare professionals to evaluate you and their job is to help you understand the risks and benefits and look out for your best interests.

It’s easy to hear or see stories that pull on your heartstrings and hope that there will be a good outcome. However, this time, you could very well do something about it and save someone’s life—or give them the life we all take for granted. It’s the little things that add up, and it’s the little things that Sinclair, who is just 35 years old, wants to enjoy.

“I dream of the day when I can live without feeling sick, without being on dialysis,” she finishes. “I wish to start a family one day, perfect my hobby of dancing salsa, travel the world, and grow my career, but most of all, I want to spend more time on Earth with my family.”

You can find out more by contacting Penn Living Donor Kidney Transplant Program or Sinclair herself at shem.sinclair@gmail.com

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