Verashka calls for more organ donors after life-saving kidney transplant
After unexpectedly being diagnosed with end-stage renal failure and more than four years on dialysis, Verashka Maharaj received a life-saving kidney transplant. Now she supports other kidney disease patients and encourages people to register as organ donors.
"I became ill in February 2015, just after I turned 40," says Verashka Maharaj (48). "All of a sudden, my blood pressure shot up, so I went to my doctor who admitted me to hospital. I was diagnosed with fibromuscular dysplasia."
- In fibromuscular dysplasia, your arteries thicken and narrow, reducing blood flow to your organs, leading to organ damage. It most commonly occurs in the arteries leading to the kidneys and brain.
"I had end-stage renal failure. My doctors didn't expect me to survive. I spent two months in hospital getting surgeries, one being a renal bypass, to try to save my kidneys, and was put on dialysis immediately.
"I hadn't had any illnesses or symptoms before this. I had always been physically fit and lived a healthy lifestyle."
Mom and daughter dialysis duo
Once she was discharged, Verashka continued to go for dialysis twice a week. She decided to resign from the job she had started one month before her hospitalisation. "I had only been at my new job for one month before I was hospitalised for two months. I later changed career to become an estate agent because I needed to do something that was flexible so that I could attend dialysis," she explains.
Verashka's mom was on dialysis for a condition unrelated to hers. "Everyone at the dialysis centre was shocked to see a mother and daughter at dialysis together.
"I used to drop off and fetch my mom from dialysis, so I understood the process. My mom was my rock and an inspiration to me. I think I coped well with my dialysis because of how she handled her own dialysis. I felt that if my mom could do it, so could I.
"It also helped to normalise dialysis. Some people on dialysis think it's a death sentence. But in our house, it was treated like having a cold. We didn't make a big deal out of it."
Finding a kidney donor
"The doctors knew I would need a kidney transplant to survive. Three of my relatives were tested to determine if they were a match for me. The testing process is stringent, and it takes long. Unfortunately, none of them qualified as donors.
"In 2017 I was put on the waiting list for a kidney transplant. Two-and-a-half years later, on 5 July 2019 at 20:00 my transplant coordinator phoned me and told me they had a kidney for me. I'll never forget that moment. I went through every emotion in the book. I even called her back to ask her if she was sure!
"My surgery started at 23:00 that night and took about six hours. Thankfully it went well. "I am so grateful to my donor. I don't know who it was. All I know is that it was a female and that she saved four people's lives that weekend."
Post-transplant recovery and lifestyle changes
Verashka spent 12 days in hospital after the transplant. She then spent nine months in isolation at home, recovering and giving her body time to adapt to the new kidney and daily immunosuppressant drugs. "My mom and sister nursed me during that time, and I am so thankful for that. I don't know what I would've done without them.
"It is wonderful to have family support. It makes traumatic, life-changing situations bearable. My mom and two younger sisters supported me throughout my journey.
"I am a very disciplined person and do what I need to do to protect my new kidney and stay healthy. I take my immunosuppressant medicine twice a day at the same time. I exercise daily and I still stick to a renal diet, just to be safe. I drink three litres of water daily. It took me a while to get used to that because when you're on dialysis you have to limit your fluid intake."
Contracting COVID-19 - "the worst time of my life"
In February 2021, Verashka's mom contracted COVID-19. Verashka and her sister, who lived with their mom, also contracted the virus. "My mom was always very careful of COVID-19. She especially didn't want me to get ill because I am on immunosuppressants and more vulnerable to becoming sick."
Unfortunately, Verashka's mom succumbed to the disease. Verashka and her sister were both hospitalised for COVID-19 and had to attend their mom's funeral virtually. "That was the worst time in my life. But after 10 years on dialysis, I think we knew that mom wouldn't survive having COVID."
Verashka spent nine days in hospital and took several months after being discharged to recover from COVID. "It took long to get my energy and strength back. And the breathing was the worst part of having COVID - I felt like I couldn't breathe at all. I found having COVID more difficult than having the transplant, to be honest."
Kidney Care Programme supports Verashka
Verashka, a Discovery Health Medical Scheme (DHMS) member, is registered on the Kidney Care Programme.
- Read about the Kidney Care Programme.
"I have been with DHMS for a long time and they've been amazing. My immunosuppressants are very expensive, so I'm glad that I'm with a good medical aid that pays for them. A coach also called me to see if I needed assistance after my transplant. It was good to chat to them to see if I was on the right track.
"When I was still on dialysis, DHMS sent me a Kidney Care member booklet. It was really insightful. I used to read it to my mom and talk about the tips on what we should and shouldn't eat.
"Something from the booklet that will always stick with me is the image of a water lily - a symbol of hope and rebirth. This beautiful flower rises from the depths of the murky water. To me each petal represents a stage in my journey from becoming ill, to being on dialysis, and then having the transplant and getting a second chance at life - being 'reborn'.
"I am also really grateful to my nephrologist, the nurses and technicians who cared for my mom and me during our dialysis sessions, the transplant team and staff who cared for me after my surgery, as well as the family, friends and colleagues who have been so supportive throughout."
"My organ donor saved my life"
"I tell my story at every opportunity to make people aware of organ donation. I owe it to my donor to promote organ donation because she saved my life and gave me a second chance."
- To become an organ donor, simply register with the Organ Donor Foundation or call 0800 22 66 11 toll-free during office hours.
"Not everyone on the transplant list gets a transplant - it's so sad. I met many people waiting for a kidney transplant while I was on dialysis. You see them so regularly that you get to know them well.
"I have also been helping other people who are on dialysis or who need a transplant. I give them advice from a patient perspective, because I've been through this myself, and it really helps them. "What I've learned from this experience is that your mindset is important. I always look for the positive side of things and try to understand the reason why things happen. I hope to do a life coaching course soon, so that I have more skills to continue helping people on their journeys."
Brian Anderson, is a minor walking miracle. He's had 93 operations, including two kidney transplants and been on intermittent dialysis for 22 years. He's passionate about raising awareness around Chronic Kidney Disease and organ donation.
She is dynamic, courageous and inspiring! At only 16-years old, Kaelyn Smit has lived through kidney failure, months of dialysis and a hugely successfully kidney transplant. No wonder she hopes to become a paediatric nephrologist.
Ayanda Nxasana was born with one regular kidney and one small one, a condition that led to renal failure as a teenager. She also suffers from lupus and is dyslexic - but none of this keeps her from managing her health and staying positive.