Local woman receives kidney transplant 9 months later

By: Jonathan Shead | Metro | Published March 23, 2021

 Nicole Holter, left, and Leigh Leader, right, celebrate together after receiving the news that Holter was a match for the transplant donation in 2020.

Nicole Holter, left, and Leigh Leader, right, celebrate together after receiving the news that Holter was a match for the transplant donation in 2020.

Photo provided by Linda Purvis


TROY — A story shared on social media and a calling from a higher power are what led to a successful kidney transplant for Troy Athens High School graduate and Rochester Hills resident Leigh Leader, 31, who had been searching for a kidney donor.

Leader, who learned she was in end-stage renal failure four years ago, almost had a donor match in her mother Lucretia Conley, until doctors discovered Conley couldn’t donate her kidney to her daughter because she was carrying the gene for Type 1 diabetes, even though she did not have diabetes herself.

End-stage renal failure, also known as end-stage kidney disease, “occurs when chronic kidney disease — the gradual loss of kidney function — reaches an advanced state. In end-stage renal disease, your kidneys are no longer able to work as they should to meet your body’s needs,” states the Mayo Clinic’s website.

Leader’s kidney disease, caused by her Type 1 diabetes, was discovered after the birth of her youngest daughter. According to the National Kidney Foundation, about 30% of patients with Type 1, or juvenile onset, diabetes — an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas stops producing insulin — and 10% to 40% of those with Type 2 diabetes — when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or it resists insulin — eventually will suffer from kidney failure.

A second donor after Leader’s mother was almost approved, but doctors found a cyst on her kidney. That’s when Nicole Holter came into the picture. Holter, the office manager at the David Purvis Agency, Farm Bureau Insurance, said she felt a calling to help.

“I right away just felt like — it was a faith thing. It was a tug at my heart, and I just knew I could do it. I knew in my heart I would be a match. I don’t know why,” Holter said, adding that after a few COVID-related hurdles, she was approved. From there it was a matter of timing and health for Leader.

Leader and Holter had the transplant surgery in November 2020.

A new lease on life
The change Leader felt after her surgery ultimately changed her life, she said.

“Everything is going amazing. As soon as I got the kidney, it worked immediately. Recovery was pretty easy, actually. I thought it was going to be a lot harder than it was, and I started feeling good right away. That was a big change, because I was feeling so awful. It changed my whole entire life.”

Before the transplant, Leader had to be hooked up to a dialysis machine for roughly 12 hours a night. Fatigue and multiple naps per day were common, but now she can refocus on her family. “Now I can actually just focus on being a mom and not have to worry so much. I mean, I still have to worry about it because I have to take all my medications, but I don’t have to do the dialysis part, which was taking up a big chunk of my life,” she said.

During that time, as the pandemic crept more and more into our hospitals and daily lives, Leader said her hopes for a successful transplant got darker before she could see the light at the end of the tunnel again.

“I had hope all the way up until last year, and then when the pandemic hit, I just kind of thought it’s not going to happen,” she said. “I had a couple rough months where, I didn’t give up, but I just lost a lot of hope that it was going to happen, and then it all worked out.”     

Holter said there’s no better feeling in the world than to have given Leader a new chance at life again.

“It feels really good when I think about it. It’s only been like four months, and it feels like it never happened, with me and my body. I was able to recover just fine, but seeing her post and talking with her and seeing the life she has back … She said her husband and her children both have said they have their old wife and their old mom back,” Holter said. “It makes me cry.”

There are no words, Leader said, for the selflessness Holter showed. “She really took it very seriously and she took it to heart. I appreciate it so much, because it gives me the chance to be the mom I want to be for my kids, and that I need to be, to actually see my kids grow up,” Leader said.

“There was a time I thought, ‘I’m not going to make it. I’m not going to see them get older and go through school’ — now she’s made it a definite that I will be here for that. What she’s done, there’s really not words for it. It was a total selfless act.”

So far, so good
The renewal of energy Leader has felt since receiving her new kidney has left her feeling like a normal person again, she said.

“My whole life has done a complete turnaround. I have more energy. I couldn’t even make it through an entire day without having to maybe take even up two naps a day, because I was so exhausted from the kidney not functioning, and then dialysis on top of that, and being a mom on top of that. It was exhausting, but now the energy is probably the most amazing thing,” she said.

“I can get up in the morning and go the whole day till about 11 o’clock, like I should, and not have to take a nap and do what I need to do and not really have to think about it so much,” Leader added, with a smile.

Before her transplant, Leader explained that traveling with her family was one of the hardest tasks, if not an impossible one. Now she’s able to be more present with her two daughters and her family.

“My life was kind of at a standstill for four years, so now it’s like I have no limits. I can do whatever I want. I have nothing holding me back, which is super nice.”

Leader will have to receive another kidney transplant in her lifetime. The average living organ donor transplant can last for about 12-15 years on average, but if taken care of exceptionally well can last up to 20 years. At a recent biopsy and ultrasound, Leader’s doctors said everything checked out and was working at 100%.

“I am just in awe of (Leader), to be honest,” Holter said. “Her perseverance and her strength, she just bounces back from this stuff. She called it discomfort after the surgery, and I was like, ‘OK, I feel like a wimp.’ She’s amazing, to go through all of this, with her kids, and she’s got such a positive attitude all the time. She’s just amazing.”

‘You can save somebody’s life’
Having the support systems of family, friends and coworkers that Hotler and Leader had through their respective transplant surgeries are what helped the two get through it.

Hotler’s work provided a full work from home station for her to use prior to and after her surgery. Meal trains were set up by family members, friends and neighbors to help feel Holter’s and Leader’s families as the women recovered.

The one takeaway Holter, who never had given an organ before, said she wants others to find from her experience is to become more informed on organ and transplant donations.

“Prior to this, I had never even heard about it. It’s something you kind of know about, but you don’t really know until you’re actually in the thick of it. You can survive with one kidney, no problem. I have no restrictions, other than I can’t take Motrin anymore. I have no diet restrictions, no health restriction, and it’s easy to do,” Holter said. “God gives you two, and you can live with one and you can save somebody’s life. You were given two; you can save a life. Do it.”