CMH caregiver donates kidney

Brittany McKenna, Patient Access Manager

National Donor Day is February 14

By Sarah Bello, Marketing & Communications Coordinator

It made perfect sense to Brittany McKenna, CMH Patient Access manager. She had two working kidneys and really only needed one. Her best friend, Kyleen Federico, diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease after having her fourth child, would never ask — but McKenna was determined to help.

Federico, who has been like a sister to McKenna, was on the transplant list for three years following her diagnosis, the last two at the very top. Even there, she was looking at a wait time of five to seven years, McKenna says.

Federico’s disease causes cysts to develop in the kidneys, inhibiting the filtration of waste and eventually leading to kidney failure. While awaiting a transplant, she underwent dialysis, first spending nine to 10 hours a day hooked up to the machine.

By the end of summer 2019, she was spending up to 15 hours a day on dialysis. Her routine became monotonous. Get up, drain the machine, go to work, pick up the kids, return home and hook back up. As a single mom, it was overwhelming.

Brittany McKenna and Kyleen Federico

Brittany McKenna and Kyleen Federico around the time they first became friends as teenagers.

“My kids and I used to go swimming a lot together,” Federico says. “It’s been four years since I’ve been able to swim with them. We played board games every Saturday, but I just started getting too sick for it, and I had no energy. It’s been a long time since we’ve gotten to do anything.”

McKenna saw her friend suffering and says “it was just the right thing to do” to see if she was a match for kidney donation. Although Federico insisted it was too much to ask, McKenna persisted. She had to see if it was even a possibility.

“That’s why I had two kidneys,” she says. “I wanted to do it.”

She completed basic testing, labs, a CT scan, chest X-rays, and a full medical screening and echocardiogram. After the doctors found she was an initial match, they asked her to fly to Arizona, where Federico lives, to meet the transplant team.

“I was there for seven hours and met with about 25 people round-robin,” McKenna says. “I met with a nephrologist, transplant surgeon, nutritionist, financial counselor and others.”

Although there were risks, McKenna says they were minor. The team explained them well, going through every scenario that could result from donating a kidney. McKenna was approved as a match, and it was decided. She was going to help her friend. In November 2019, she returned to Arizona for the surgery.

On November 21, the surgeon removed an 18-pound kidney from Federico. Transplanted in was one of McKenna’s healthy kidneys — for reference, weighing around a half a pound. The next day, McKenna was up from her hospital bed and walking to visit her friend on a separate floor. 

Shortly after the transplant surgery, Kyleen Federico and Brittany McKenna have a conversation at the hospital.

Shortly after the transplant surgery, Kyleen Federico and Brittany McKenna have a conversation at the Arizona hospital where the transplant took place.

“It couldn’t have come at a better time. Her kidney has been so amazing,” Federico says. “Our lives were run completely off a dialysis machine. That just doesn’t work at all for a single mom with four kids. I tell her all the time she didn’t just save one life, she saved five people’s lives with one kidney.”

Federico says the surgery has been a success, greatly increasing her quality of life. Because she had a living donor, she’s had better results than she could have expected from a deceased one. She is not back to work yet, but she has been able to do things with her kids again.

Of her friend’s gift, she says it was a big deal that she is incredibly grateful for.

“I love her so much,” she says. “I don’t necessarily think people consider donating, but it definitely is something that can change a lot of people’s lives.”

Kyleen Federico and Brittany McKenna describe themselves as best friends for life.

February 14 is National Donor Day, a day to increase awareness about organ donation. Click here to learn more about organ donation and how you can help