Let Down by the Healthcare System- Saved by Her Best Friend

April 05, 2022, 3:34pm EDT

Lupita Cisneros and Florence Sanchez

"We've always said we were soul sisters. Today she's more than that. I believe she's my soulmate because she didn't even think twice about giving me her kidney." -Florence Sanchez.


Navigating the trials of middle school is no easy task—creating an identity while dealing with school work, friendships, and pleasing your parents—not to mention widely fluctuating hormones.

It may be why middle school best friends hold special places in our hearts, they were with us during a major period of our lives.  

Florence Sanchez and Lupita Cisneros met when they were both 13 and are beautiful examples of what happens when those friendships last into adulthood. They both had children at the same time, their oldest kids are best friends, and they call each other's parents mom and dad. 

They couldn't imagine life without one another. When Florence was diagnosed with kidney failure, Lupita jumped into action, immediately offering one of hers. Here is their story.

Florence's diagnosis

In August of 2020, Florence went to the hospital after a car accident caused her high blood pressure to spike even further. 

"My E.R. doctor came in and asked me, 'Do you know you are in kidney failure?'" Florence said, "I must have looked at him pretty crazy because I didn't know, and I go [to my doctor] every year."

Florence has diabetes and high blood pressure, two major risk factors for kidney disease. At the time, her diabetes was well-managed, and she was working on controlling high blood pressure. 

Also, her doctors had been monitoring her kidney health... Right?

Let down by the healthcare system

Back in 2009, Florence's kidneys were checked yearly and were functioning well. After 2009, however, she lost her private insurance and had to move to a new doctor's office. Florence assumed that she would continue getting the same yearly tests she received under private insurance.

That's why it was such a surprise to learn she hadn't had a kidney function test in 10 years—and why Florence ended up in kidney failure in the E.R. following her car accident. Her doctor told Florence that she may have been able to prevent kidney failure if she'd known about her kidney disease earlier.

Do you want to know if you are at risk of kidney disease? Take this one-minute quiz to find out-it may save your life

Unfortunately, Florence’s experience happens to people every day. New insurance policies can be confusing and are usually not explained well. In this case, no one explained that this policy switch could affect baseline kidney function testing. 

Learn about the factors contributing to kidney disease and a late diagnosis.

Taking matters into her own hands

COVID-19 delayed Florence's ability to get a transplant until April 2021. 

Determined to stay off dialysis, she followed a kidney failure diet, limiting sodium and cutting out red meat, dairy, high phosphorus vegetables, and potassium.

Through these efforts, Florence managed to stay off dialysis entirely (15 months) despite her eGFR dropping as low as 15. 

Florence's best friend steps in

Lupita, who had been by Florence's side every step of the way, insisted that she would be the one to donate a kidney. 

"When I found out I was sick, she kept telling me, 'I'm going to give you my kidney,'" Florence explained. "She told me life isn't life without me. If I go, she's going with me."

When the transplant center accepted Florence, Lupita was immediately tested, and they were a 100% match.

The surgery took place in November 2021, and Florence's kidney is functioning well today.

Understanding test results

After the transplant, Florence reviewed old lab results from a 2019 E.R. visit, and knowing what she knows now, they clearly showed she had stage 3 kidney disease.

No one had told her. 

Regrettably, many people share similar experiences. Not having a regular doctor that knows your medical history is another factor that can contribute to a late diagnosis. The E.R. doctors were likely unaware of her previous medical history and assumed she already knew or perhaps accidentally overlooked it due to a lack of resources. 

Regardless, this oversight cost Florence dearly. 

"I want to teach people." said Florence, "If I would have known how to read my test results, I could have done something about it." 

Here are a few lab values to keep an eye on:

 
  • Serum Creatinine: Creatinine is a normal waste product from muscle wear and tear. Since the kidneys remove it from the blood, seeing creatinine levels rise means the kidneys aren't working well. 
  • Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN): Urea nitrogen is another normal waste product in your blood that comes from protein breakdown. When kidney function slows down, or protein consumption goes up, the BUN levels rise. 
  • Urine Protein: Damaged kidneys allow protein to leak into the urine. High levels of protein in your urine could be an early sign of kidney problems. 

Are you struggling to make sense of your labs? NKF Cares can help.

Answering the call

Florence and Lupita shared a deep friendship long before the kidney transplant, but now they have an even stronger bond. They hope sharing their story inspires others to donate a kidney. 

"Saving a life is more precious than a couple of days of discomfort," Florence said. "And, like my best friend says, 'we can live off one kidney- all we need is just one.'"

Because of Lupita's gift, Florence has a second chance at life, and she intends to live it to the fullest.

Learn more about becoming a kidney donor

Share your story

Have you donated a kidney to save your best friend, family member, or even a stranger? Please share your story with us. It may be the one to inspire others to give this life-saving gift.