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Kidney Transplant Patient Ricki Gets a Third Chance

Kidney transplant patient Ricki Nero.

Three days after 18-year-old Ricki Nero left home for her freshman year at Chapman University, her mom Cynthia received a call from the dean of Ricki's school.

Ricki was experiencing intense swelling due to the heat and needed to return home.

"I couldn't get shoes on my feet—not even flip-flops," Ricki recalls.

She saw a doctor about the swelling and got a surprising diagnosis: focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a form of kidney disease.

"He told me about Dr. Stanley Jordan at Cedars-Sinai and my mom made it her mission to get me there."

Instead of bringing Ricki back to their home in Alaska, Cynthia moved to be closer to better medical care, and they ended up in Washington state.

Over the next several years, Ricki's health continued to decline. Eventually, she was diagnosed with kidney failure and doctors told her she'd need to go on dialysis until she could have a kidney transplant.

The first attempt

Ricki was 34 when she had her first kidney transplant. But the new kidney started to fail soon after and doctors didn't have high hopes for another transplant—Ricki was now "sensitized."

"Sensitized" patients are those who have received blood transfusions or previous organ transplants. They develop antibodies—blood proteins designed by the immune system to attack and destroy a transplant. This makes it difficult to perform transplants in people who have already received a donated organ.

"I was at Swedish Hospital in Seattle undergoing a round of dialysis and a surgeon told me I had too many antibodies for another kidney transplant," Ricki remembers.

"He told me about Dr. Stanley Jordan at Cedars-Sinai and my mom made it her mission to get me there."

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Life-saving call

In 2011, Ricki came to Cedars-Sinai for the first time and met Dr. Jordan.

"I was having dialysis at Cedars-Sinai and he walked into the room and someone whispered, 'That's Dr. Jordan,'" Ricki says. "I was scared to death! But then I met him and he is so down to earth and warm. It was a great experience.”

For several years, Ricki and Cynthia flew back and forth for desensitization treatments with Dr. Jordan and his team while Ricki's care team in Washington handled her day-to-day care.

"They asked if I could get on a plane and be there by midnight for a transplant."

Ricki and Cynthia Nero with their dog Layla.

In 2014, after a decade of waiting for a second kidney, Ricki had lost hope.

"I had made the decision to stop dialysis," Ricki says. "And that same day the phone rang and it was Dr. Jordan's team. They asked if I could get on a plane and be there by midnight for a transplant."

More hope

After the surgery, things started looking up—the transplanted kidney was working.

"That's what Dr. Jordan did for me with the anti-rejection treatment," Ricki says. "There was no way he was going to give up."

Dr. Jordan works closely with Ricki's care team at Swedish Hospital to ensure her care continues to go well. She returns to Cedars-Sinai yearly for checkups.

"The most amazing thing is this transplant was extremely risky," Cynthia says. "In April, it will be 5 years since the surgery, and that's clearly due to the follow-up care with Dr. Jordan and his team."