SHS teacher on road to recovery with new kidney
Sarah Holtz has such a passion for teaching that after being diagnosed with kidney disease two years ago, the Sherwood High School English language development teacher was willing to undergo up to twelve-and-a-half hours of dialysis out of every 24-hour-period so she could continue to teach.
And even when a donor was found and the surgeries were scheduled, Holtz worked until two weeks before the Oct. 30 life-changing event.
At two weeks post-surgery, Holtz was doing better than anyone expected.
"It is a true miracle," she said. "I didn't expect to feel so well, and my quality of life has improved so much. My lab levels are doing great, and my doctors are blown away."
Many patients wait years for a suitable kidney, but Holtz, 32, didn't have years to wait as her condition deteriorated. "I was diagnosed one week after my 30th birthday," she said. "And even with all the dialysis, I was getting sicker and sicker."
The donor was Carolyn Davidson, a teacher at Joan Austin Elementary in Newberg, who had been inspired to donate by fellow teacher Missy Love, who donated a kidney in 2014 and became an advocate for kidney donation and posted information about Holtz on Facebook.
"(Sarah's) whole life has had to change, like no social life because she goes home every day after work and has to hook up and do dialysis all through the evening and night," Holtz's colleague and friend Angi Muckey said. "Her dad passed away last year so they also dealt with that terrible loss in the middle of all this. She's just had a lot of trials since being sick, and she's really maintained a positive outlook when a lot of people wouldn't have."
Holtz added, "I had to do some of the dialysis at work when I first began, so it's been quite crazy. There were a lot of different things. With a catheter, I couldn't do things like swim or take a bath or lift heavy things. With my fatigue getting worse, I couldn't work out like I used to.
"With dialysis, if I wanted to get to work in the morning, I had to hook up by 6 p.m., so I couldn't go out on weeknights or see family and friends. By the time the weekend came, I was so fatigued I couldn't go and do anything anyway, and I was used to being pretty active."
That was enough for Davidson to hear so she reached out to Love to find out about the process and decided to get tested to see if she was a match for Holtz. She was, so Davidson and Love decided they wanted to surprise Holtz with the good news. To do that, they connected with Muckey, a middle school teacher who had initially informed Love of Holtz's situation.
A standup staff meeting was set up at SHS so that Davidson could announce the news that she was a match to Holtz in person.
"Usually when a standup staff meeting is called, it is not good news," Holtz said of the event that was held during the in-service week before school started last September. "Then the principal (Ken Bell) walked over and knocked on a closet door."
Out came Davidson, Love, Muckey, Superintendent Heather Cordie, Holtz's mom and step-dad and everyone else whose presence at the staff meeting might have ruined the surprise. "My sister who couldn't make it was on Facetime," Holtz said. "Carolyn came out with a sign reading 'Will You Be My Kidney Sister?'"
Muckey explained, "Carolyn's thing was that she wanted to honor the school setting because they've been very supportive of Sarah, but that she also didn't want it to be an assembly in front of everybody.
"To see somebody give so much to a total stranger was amazing," Muckey added. "Missy felt so passionately and strongly about sharing her experience because it would never have happened without her being so generous herself and so willing to share her story. It's life-changing to do that for somebody."
Holtz said she was caught completely off guard by the announcement. "It's been a long time waiting," said Holtz, whose last day of teaching was Oct. 13. "It definitely brought some relief because my body was really done with having to teach and do dialysis."
The surgery was originally scheduled for December, but knowing that Holtz's health was declining, Davidson requested that it be moved up.
Both families and many supporters were at Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center in Portland the day of the surgery and prayed around the two women's beds before their surgeries, with Davidson's starting about half an hour before Holtz's.
They stayed in touch while at the hospital and continue to talk almost daily. "It's amazing to have one family, and now I have a new family too," Holtz said. "We've both been in a lot of pain since our surgeries, but I have a whole new life. When I woke up from the anesthesia, I felt like a new person. My skin color was good, and the 'alligator' skin I had has gone away. My creatinine levels are normal, and I'm not fatigued or nauseous."
Muckey couldn't be happier for her friend. "She is doing so great," she said. "It is definitely a miracle. The surgeon came out after the surgery and told us that the second the kidney was connected, it started working. Usually they take minutes to hours. I don't think Sarah knew how bad she felt."
Holtz is in for a long recovery and is living temporarily with her mom and step-dad, who are her caregivers, and she hopes to return to teaching possibly as early as next spring but at the start of the next school year at the latest.
Seth Gordon, who is a reporter with the Newberg Graphic, contributed to this story.