Sedicah Powell is a mental health professional from New York. In 2014, life was intense. Good intense. She was working full-time and she’d just started graduate school at Fordham University to attain her master’s degree in Social Work. Then the news came. Her mom, who had been diagnosed with glomerulonephritis when Sedicah was in grade school, learned that her kidneys were now functioning at about ten percent of normal. She would need dialysis or a transplant right away. “When we got the news, it was a big crash in the family,” said Sedicah.
Coming together, her family decided that collectively they’d all be tested. Sedicah, along with her sister, grandmother, and aunt were all tested. “I’m African-American and many aspects of our health are not so great,” said Sedicah, referring to the fact that many African-Americans aren’t eligible to donate a kidney because of higher rates of obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes compared to other groups. “Because of these things, many of my family members were screened out. A few of us moved forward, but none of us were a match. This was another big shock.” she added.
Sedicah’s mom, Pauline would be a difficult match. She had a less common blood type, but tests also showed that she was sensitized, meaning her blood showed the presence of antibodies that would have reacted against a new kidney, causing a rejection. She would need a perfect match – someone with a compatible blood type but also naturally immune to Pauline’s antibodies.
The transplant team looked to plan B. Pauline’s results were listed in a paired exchange national database in the hopes of finding that perfect match. It was a numbers game. Months went by and no match. “We prayed about it. Prayer works. We prayed and prayed. We didn’t give up. We knew it was going to get better.”
Finally, a mother and son pair from the Bronx, and in the same situation provided an opening. Sedicah would donate her kidney to the other mom. The woman’s son, in turn would donate his kidney to Sedicah’s mom Pauline. The family’s prayers had been answered.
There was a solution at hand, but a new struggle had now begun. “Juggling all the other stuff was the hard part,” recalls Sedicah. “I had grad school classes to attend, papers to write, and full-time work.” Based on advice from her nurse coordinator at the transplant center, she planned to take one month off of work and school to recover, but how to make ends meet? She spoke with her boss who helped her make a plan. She’d use a week of accrued sick time and applied for a medical leave which allowed her to get short-term disability while she recovered. “The short-term disability helped, but it wasn’t the same as the normal paycheck,” said Sedicah.
After surgery, Sedicah described her recovery as short and painful. “I’m very self-reliant, but during recovery, I had to rely on others – even to get out of bed.” She was out of the hospital in 2 days and back to driving and school in 2 weeks. Because of the lifting constraints and active labor she performs at work, sometimes for 16 hours a day, Sedicah waited 2 months to return to work. But when she did, she knew she was ready.
Despite the hardships, Sedicah considers it to be a great experience. “I get chocked up every time I think about it,” she said. “The satisfying part goes without saying – not seeing my Mom suffer like she was. When I went into her [hospital] room, I was in pain, but she had this look on her face that I hadn’t seen for such a long time. She was smiling and her face was bright. I took part in something that saved my Mom’s life, plus helped save someone else who was sick. It completely changed two lives.”
Sedicah continues to give back by speaking in the community about donor awareness, participated in the 2015 NYC Kidney walk, and was given the “Gift of Life” plaque from New York State for her brave act. “When I speak to others, I always include the facts about African-Americans, and tell people ‘mind your health’! I never thought I’d donate a kidney at age 24. Healthy people of color should consider helping someone else in need.”