Sydney Knicely, a 4th grader from McKeesport, Pennsylvania, never misses a day of school and participates in extracurricular activities including art, gym and music. After school, she horses around with her younger sister, does household chores and plays softball on a slow-pitch team with other neighborhood girls. This may seem unremarkable, but what sets Sydney apart is that she's actively involved in all of these activities while undergoing dialysis to treat her kidney failure.
“She’s just like other kids,” says Sandy Willard, Sydney’s mother, of her daughter. “She does her homework and plays with friends, goes out for recess and participates in sports. If she misbehaves, we ground her. We treat her no differently on dialysis than we treated her before she got sick.”
In 2009, Sydney caught a common head cold. After a few weeks, Sandy realized that her daughter still hadn’t fully recovered. Sydney also seemed chronically tired and was losing her desire to run around at recess or socialize with other kids.
“I couldn't think of what could be causing these changes. I thought that maybe she was depressed, because the family had recently gone through some relationship changes,” Sandy recalls. “It was quite scary to see her so withdrawn. She even lost her appetite.”
Blood tests showed that neither of Sydney’s kidneys was functioning, and she would need to start dialysis treatment immediately.
“This wasn’t something we were prepared for. No one in our family has ever had trouble with their kidneys,” says Sandy. “It was a shock, and it was frightening, but Sydney surprised us all with her determination and patience.”
She says her daughter adjusted to the process quickly—even deciding to do homework during treatment in order to keep up with her schoolwork and avoid falling behind. Sydney does peritoneal dialysis at home, a technique that uses her own body tissues inside of the abdominal cavity to act as a filter, removing waste products.
In the last year, Sydney and her family have traveled to amusement parks, zoos and even to Disney World, proving that despite her need for treatment, Sydney really is living her life to the fullest.
Says Sandy, “Thanks to dialysis, my daughter is alive. She’s healthy enough to learn and grow just like any other kid. We’re so grateful.”