Bensalem, Newtown women share bond through kidney transplant

On April 9, Shelley Gunnip, of Bensalem, donated her right kidney to Rose Rau, of Newtown Township. The two have been friends for 45 years after meeting at a class for deaf students in Lower Makefield.

Rose Rau and Shelley Ginnip believe it was fate that brought them together.

Rau was 5 living in Falls, and Ginnip was 6 living in Upper Southampton, when the two met while attending a special class for the deaf at Makefield Elementary School in Lower Makefield.

“I remember seeing her walk into the classroom, and we just connected,” said Rau, 51, of Newtown Township.

Growing up together deaf in a hearing world, as Ginnip’s mother described their early years, is one of the reasons the two remained friends for 45 years. On April 9, the bond between the two was secured forever when Ginnip donated her right kidney to Rau.

“She’s my hero. I’m forever grateful to (her),” Rau said. “She saved my life.”

About 25 years ago, Rau was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. In 2017 she was told by doctors she would eventually need a kidney transplant to live.

During a routine doctor’s visit on July 5, Rau discovered her creatinine levels, which measures kidney function, were nine times greater than the average level for an adult woman. She was rushed to St. Mary Medical Center in Middletown to begin dialysis.

About transplants

Health consequences of chronic kidney disease Infections can occur because of a weakened immune system

High potassium levels in the blood (hyperkalemia) can cause an irregular or abnormal heartbeat

Loss of appetite or eating less

Excess fluids in the body causing high blood pressure, swelling in the legs or shortness of breath because of fluid in the lungs (a condition known as pulmonary edema)

Depression or lower quality of life

Organ donor fact sheet

In the United States, the most commonly transplanted organs are the kidney, liver, heart, lungs, pancreas and intestines. On any given day there are around 75,000 people on the active waiting list for organs, but only around 8,000 deceased organ donors each year, with each providing on average 3½ organs. Living donors provide on average only around 6,000 organs per year.

Rau is one of about 30 million, or 15 percent, of Americans that suffer from chronic kidney disease. The condition doesn’t allow kidneys to filter blood, which causes excess fluid and waste from the blood to remain in the body.

The disease affects women (16 percent) more than men (13 percent), according to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . It’s also more common in non-Hispanic blacks (18 percent) than in non-Hispanic whites (13 percent), according to the CDC.

Of those with severely reduced kidney function, 48 percent not on dialysis are unaware they have the disorder.

Patients are diagnosed through blood and urine tests after experiencing symptom such as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue and weakness, sleep problems, changes in urine levels, decreased mental sharpness or muscle twitches and cramps, according to the Mayo Clinic .

Treatments other than dialysis, which helps filter a patience’s blood, include dietary changes and medications.

Following her July hospital stay, Rau continued to receive dialysis treatments four hours a day, three days a week at DaVita Dialysis Center in Newtown Township.

“I know a lot of people who have been on dialysis for years. I was only on dialysis for nine months, so I was lucky,” Rau said. “I could not imagine what they are going through.”

With her at each treatment to show support was Ginnip, who followed Rau as they traveled to different schools as children, graduated from Bensalem High School together and asked Rau to be a godmother to one of her three children. The two even worked together at the IRS for several years, with Rau forced to retire after 31 years with the agency due to her failing health.

After months of contemplation, Rau decided to let her brother Carl donate his kidney to her, but during an examination doctors discovered he had kidney cancer. On March 25, doctors removed the kidney and he is now cancer free, Rau said.

“If it wasn’t for me, he wouldn’t have known or it would have been too late,” she said. “I think God has a plan for us.”

It wasn’t long before Ginnup and Rau got the news that they were a kidney match.

“It’s just amazing that your best friend is a perfect match,” said Ginnip, of Bensalem, through her mother Anita Singer, who served as her translator during a recent interview.

Rau said the pair burst into tears after hearing the news. “It was a dream come true,” she said.

Following the combined six-hour procedures, Rau was in tears again, this time anxious about Ginnip’s condition. To ease her concerns, staff at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania wheelchaired Rau to Ginnip’s room so she could see that her friend was OK.

“They were never in their rooms alone,” Singer said, adding the pair were back on their feet the next day. “I call them my kidney twins.”

The match was immediate for Rau, whose body instantly took Ginnip’s kidney, a process that often can take a few hours.

“I’m 51 but my right kidney is 49 years old,” Rau said jokingly about her new organ.

Nearly a month after the surgery, the only effects the two feel are some aches and pains.

Rau has never felt better. She no longer feels sluggish and is overjoyed that she no longer has to go through dialysis.

“Rose is much better post-surgery,” Singer said. “All of that sickness that she’s been going through has improved immensely.”

Ginnip also is nearly back to her normal self.

Now that the scary part is over, the two can smile and joke as they recover together while continuing their last friendship.“I would do anything for her,” Rau said.

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