After a year-long campaign to find an organ donor, a St. James woman with a rare disorder has a new kidney, a new degree and a new chance at life.
On May 12, Rachael Eisenson, 27, entered an operating room for the transplant and emerged with a functioning kidney. For Eisenson and her family, the operation at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan marked the end of a particularly difficult year fighting end-stage kidney failure, the toll of her rare disorder Familial Dysautonomia.
“It’s amazing, the transformation is amazing,” her father Charles Eisenson, 60, said.
“I felt overwhelmed and happy, it’s too many words,” Rachael Eisenson said of the moment she found out she had a match.
On Thursday, about a month after receiving the new kidney, she was awarded her master’s degree in web and multimedia design from Touro College, the culmination of school work she completed between treatments at doctor’s offices and hospitals.
Eisenson was diagnosed with the rare disorder shortly after birth. The disease affects about 1 in 3,700 people of Eastern or Central European Jewish descent and causes a wide variety of symptoms depending on the patient.
For Eisenson, it meant a lifetime of trouble regulating her blood pressure, body temperature and emotions, and in May 2015, imminent kidney failure if she didn’t receive a transplant. Her symptoms meant she wasn’t a good candidate for dialysis beyond emergency treatments to keep her alive.
Eisenson and her family began desperately seeking a donor when Charles and Deborah Eisenson and their daughter’s three brothers were determined ineligible to donate because of their blood types. The average wait time on a transplant list is three to five years.
Rachael Eisenson, a graphic designer, put her skills to use and created a Facebook page, campaigning for a donor to come forward. The family reached out to friends, other relatives and the public looking for help while she endured painful dialysis treatments three days a week.
About 15 people came forward and had blood tests done as a result, Charles Eisenson said. Three were allowed to proceed to the next stages of testing to determine if their kidney was a match. The best match was the first person to come forward — Kathleen Albrecht, a Smithtown resident, he said.
Albrecht, 52, said she approached the family after seeing Rachael Eisenson’s story in the media. She had faced losing her own daughter six years earlier due to complications from childbirth and wanted to help the Eisenson family.
“The desperation as a parent, you never forget what that’s like,” Albrecht said. “I saw Rachael’s parents on television...and it brought me back to the same exact moment six years ago. I said to my husband, if that was our daughter we’d want someone to come forward.”
Doctors determined Albrecht was a perfect match, and she said she remained committed, even when the surgery was delayed while Eisenson fought off an infection.
Meanwhile, she fought to keep up with her school work. She would go to class instead of resting between dialysis treatments, her father said.
“They offered to let her take her time and she wouldn’t hear of it,” her father said. “She never even skipped classes.”
Officials at Touro said they were impressed by Eisenson’s dedication to her work. As part of the graduation events, she was given the school’s Academic Persistence Award.
“The fact that she had the fortitude and drive to complete our master’s program required a great deal of persistence and single-minded effort,” said program chair Jesse Epstein. “Her success in the program took a special kind of drive and persistence that I wanted to recognize with the special award.”
Eisenson is still recovering. She’s not yet able to be in crowded public spaces, so she wasn’t able to attend her graduation ceremony on June 16.
But she’s eager to get back to her life, and she said she may look for a freelance or part time design job. She’s also working on trying foods that she had to eliminate because of the kidney condition. After her transplant, she had a banana for the first time in years.
“I still can’t believe it,” she said.
“She’s going to become a normal regular girl,” her father added.