Hannah Erdman is sitting in a chair drinking coffee in an attempt to counteract the exhaustion she is going to soon feel. For four hours — three times a week — Erdman watches her blood exit her body through an external chest catheter and spin through a machine that does the job her kidney(s) cannot do.
She has her laptop in her lap as she attempts to study and do homework from 15 credit hours of coursework. The Wi-Fi at her dialysis treatment center — where she spends 12 hours a week — has been down for the entirety of this semester.
A 24-year-old senior in psychology, Erdman spends her Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons in dialysis treatments as she waits on the kidney transplant list for now over two years. Thankfully, she said, the internet access was turned back on this past week.
“Dialysis is my three and a half hours of study time,” Erdman said. “Dialysis has helped a lot in terms of just study time because it’s really difficult to study outside of class, and I can’t have a class after dialysis, and those evenings are taken from me and I can’t do any extra activities.”
For Erdman, a four-year degree has turned into a six-year degree due to end-stage renal failure and a change in major — microbiology to psychology —as she rediscovered her love for drama and drama therapy.
Erdman’s six years of her undergraduate career will come to an end in May, and she said she has one personal wish.
“My one wish for me is I get a transplant the day after graduation,” Erdman said.
College has not been easy for Erdman due to many hours spent in dialysis, so she said she would love to have a diploma and a new kidney in about three weeks.
“College is really difficult because between dialysis sessions I just sleep most of the time,” Erdman said. “So studying is really difficult because I sleep almost all of the time. Because I’ve spent my entire college career with a compromised immune system, I’ve had to work with (the Student Access Center) and Student Life because of doctors appointments and now dialysis.”
While dialysis is exhausting and she has to worry about low blood pressure and migraines — and while forced to avoid her favorite foods, including dairy products, whole grains and fresh fruits — Erdman said treatment is not as painful as she has noticed people perceive it to be.
“It is a little surreal seeing your blood go through a machine and then come back in,” Erdman said. “But you kind of get used to it, and when you’re 16 and doing it, you get used to it really fast.”
Erdman was born premature and had smaller-than-normal kidneys, but doctors did not foresee any future complications; however, at age 16 Erdman was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease and went into kidney failure for the first time.
Thankfully, she said, her older brother — who she lives with in Manhattan and who drives her on days where she cannot drive herself because of dialysis — was a transplant match and donated his kidney to her that December.
Then, just three years into college, Erdman went into a stress-induced kidney rejection and went back onto dialysis and the transplant list after “jumping through hoops,” including having to lose 90 pounds, go to all dialysis treatments for the entire length of time and have healthy lab work results.
“So many people are on the kidney transplant list, and so many people die while on the list,” Erdman said, “and that’s really sad. Or they’re on the list so long that they develop a compounding illness and then cannot get a transplant.”
According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, 97,802 people were on the kidney transplant waiting list as of Wednesday.
Eighty percent of those on the list are — like Erdman — on dialysis, according to the Living Kidney Donors Network, and as a person is on dialysis while waiting for a kidney, the short-term and long-term results are negatively affected.
“I just really hope people are more willing to look up the statistics and ask questions,” Erdman said.
From January to March 2017, 4,723 kidney transplants were completed, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.
Now, as Erdman prepares to graduate in May, she said she hopes to be called for a transplant just one day after graduation.
“You do have two kidneys,” Erdman said. “You only need one. You won’t have to be on dialysis, and the recipient’s insurance will pay for it. The transplant surgery is intense, but it’s not scary.”
Erdman said she understands that can still be a lot to ask.
“I also just really hope people are more willing to look up the statistics,” Erdman said. “They can go to a hospital and get matched — it doesn’t have to be for me. Even just donate blood; it’s saved my life multiple times. And if not donating, just learn the facts and be aware that it’s out there; it’s an invisible illness.”
To learn more about Erdman’s story or to donate to her medical expenses, visit her GoFundMe page at https://www.gofundme.com/e350to.