By Katie Photiadis
A non-diabetic with low blood pressure, Stephanie Juskow, mom of two, considered herself boring, health-wise. That is, until Juskow, at 29, went in for a routine visit after giving birth to her second daughter and learned that her kidneys were failing.
“I was tired all the time, but I attributed it to having a newborn, so it was a complete shock to me,” she said. With 4-month-old and 3-year-old daughters, she was scared. “My first question to the doctor was, ‘Am I going to die?’”
Unfortunately, the doctor was unable to answer her question.
In that moment, all her dreams and plans were put on hold, as the previously healthy young mom realized her number one priority was getting well.
By the fall of 2006, Juskow started undergoing an aggressive home treatment, which involved receiving dialysis every night. “You’re basically chained to a machine for eight hours,” Juskow said. This treatment lasted two years, until her situation took a turn for the worse.
In 2007, she was suddenly faced with another unexpected blow — divorce. During this time, Juskow’s home treatments stopped working and she was put on the kidney transplant list. According to the National Kidney Foundation, 100,000 people die each year while waiting for a kidney transplant.
Despite everything she was going through, Juskow kept upbeat: “I found that laughter, spending time with close friends and family, got me through it … I was very ill, but I hid it well. I didn’t want to look sick. I didn’t want people to look at me and think, ‘poor her.’”
Whatever spare energy she had, she spent playing with her kids. Juskow didn’t want her children to see her sick. So, each morning, Juskow did her hair, got dressed and tried to live as normal a life as possible. “I find that it’s a lot easier to stay positive. Once you go to the negative side of things, it’s a lot harder to get out of it,” Juskow said.
In August of 2009, Juskow took her daughters to Disney World. She had dreamed of taking her children there and she wanted to make the trip before it was too late.
Four months after they returned from Florida, Juskow received a phone call from a hysterical relative in Philadelphia. Another relative, James Blume, suffered a heart attack and was on life support. He was also an organ donor. On Dec. 3, she received the official call: the mother of two was getting a kidney.
Today, two years after the successful surgery, Juskow has reclaimed her life. “I’ve come full circle. We have a brand new house. Life has gone back to being boring and mundane,” Juskow said. Now she has the energy to spend time with her daughters, Rebecca, 9, and Emma, 6, while working as a massage therapist and serving as a vocal advocate for kidney donation.
“It was a big chapter in my life. When you go through something like that, you find out who your family is and who your real friends are,” she said.
This coming August, Juskow is taking her daughters back to Disney World. This time, Juskow plans on going on all the rides.