A fighter like no other
Charlene Webster remembers it like it was yesterday.
“I was told to treasure every moment because Aleisha wouldn’t live long,” she says, recalling the day her daughter, then barely two months, was diagnosed with hypoparathyroidism. “They predicted she wouldn’t make it to two years old.”
Hypoparathyroidism is a rare disorder usually caused by decreased functioning of a person’s parathyroid glands. But not in Aleisha Sadorsky’s case. She was born without these glands.
Fortunately, she’s a fighter and in March 2017 the 35-year-old celebrates six months as BC’s — and possibly Canada’s — first patient to receive a parathyroid gland transplant. The surgery was conducted at VGH.
A life of struggle
Aleisha has been on a long and sometimes lonely journey. “I’ve never met anyone else like me,” she says. “We’ve searched but we can’t find anyone else born without parathyroid glands in Canada.”
Located in the neck behind the thyroid, parathyroid glands control the calcium in our bodies. When they malfunction — or are absent — insufficient calcium results in muscle cramping, involuntary contractions and other symptoms. For Aleisha, the results were severe and life-threatening.
“The cramping was so bad my toes would curl backwards and my throat would cramp to the point it affected my ability to eat and breathe,” she says.
Aleisha experienced multiple cardiac arrests and debilitating pain while defying predictions that she wouldn’t reach adulthood. Then, she developed end-stage kidney disease.
At 18, Aleisha received a kidney from her mother. The kidney took but the anti-rejection drugs led to complications, including skin cancer. And, still, Aleisha had no parathyroid glands.
Fast forward to 2016 and we find Aleisha in need of another kidney transplant. She has spent seven years on dialysis waiting for a match.
“The combination of Aleisha’s blood type and high levels of antibodies made finding a match like winning the lottery,” says Dr. Olwyn Johnston, VGH transplant nephrologist.
Thanks to the Highly Sensitized Patient (HSP) program, which provides patients like Aleisha access to a national donor pool, she won that lottery. A donor was found for both a kidney and parathyroid gland.
On, September 8, 2016, Aleisha underwent surgery. Dr. Chris Nguan first transplanted one kidney, followed by Dr. Mark Meloche transplanting the parathyroid gland.
“The universe came through for Aleisha,” says Dr. Nguan, and Dr. Johnston agrees.
“This was a highly unusual case and a once-in-a-lifetime surgery,” she says. “I may never see the need for another parathryroid transplant during my career.”
A life of possibility
Today, Aleisha’s calcium levels are within normal range and her physicians are pleased with her progress. Aleisha is ecstatic.
“I’m overwhelmed over how much better I feel. I have more energy and I feel stronger and happier.”
Aleisha is now looking forward to a life she could only dream of before. Driving a car, travelling and savouring new foods are just some of the possibilities.
“Every day I feel stronger and blessed. I have a chance to experience so much more, and I’m so thankful for the donor and all the doctors, nurses, family and friends who are so helpful.”