Two local friends learn they are both in need of a kidney transplant

By: Mark Vest | C&G Newspapers | Published October 22, 2021

 Pictured, left, is Royal Oak resident Mallory Milavec and her sister, Hannah Leavy. Milavec helped raise money for the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan. Leavy needs a kidney transplant.

Pictured, left, is Royal Oak resident Mallory Milavec and her sister, Hannah Leavy. Milavec helped raise money for the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan. Leavy needs a kidney transplant.

Photo provided by Mallory Milavec

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OAKLAND COUNTY — For years, Royal Oak resident Mallory Milavec has been helping raise money for the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan.

Her motive for getting started stems from a personal connection: Her younger sister, Hannah Leavy, was born with hypoplastic kidneys, which means they didn’t form when she was in utero.

Leavy, who currently resides in Farmington Hills, started dialysis around the age of 1 and got a kidney transplant from her dad when she was 22 months old.

That personal history propelled Milavec to take an active role in supporting the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan. But this year her participation has taken on an even deeper meaning.

Leavy, who is now 31 years old, learned she will need to go back on the list for a kidney donor.

“I found out just in routine blood work through my transplant doctor that my levels were going in the wrong direction. I got a kidney biopsy back in May, and they indicated I was in rejection,” Leavy said. “And so, since then I’ve gotten the work-up to get put back on the waiting list. I’ve had family members working to be living donors, but I have not found a match yet.”

Even before hearing the news, Leavy understood that a time may come when she would need another transplant.

“Living donor transplants usually last anywhere from 12 to 15 years, as long as you’re taking care of yourself, like taking medications and doing everything your doctors (say),” she said. “I’m almost to 30 years. It really depends on your compliance. If it’s from a deceased donor, I think a little bit less, but usually 12 to 15 years.”

Milavec and Leavy are both friends of current Detroit and former Farmington Hills resident Martha Stella.

Approximately a month after Leavy learned that she would need another transplant, Stella found out she would also need a second one.

“They found out within a month of each other, so imagine having a good friend that needs a kidney, and you both find out that your kidneys are failing and you need to get a kidney transplant again,” said Milavec, who works as a nurse practitioner in Southfield. “It was an emotional thing.”

Despite learning that she is not a match to donate a kidney, Milavec has taken action in other ways.

Both individually and as part of Team MARF, which comprises about 50 people, Milavec helped raise funds at the NKFM Kidney Walk at the Detroit Zoo Aug. 15.

Milavec personally helped raise over $7,000, which contributed to the team’s total of about $13,000 in support of the NKFM.

Team MARF was the highest fundraiser in the state, with Milavec being the top individual fundraiser.

“I wanted to create as much awareness around it as possible within the community and the state of Michigan, so that people could be aware that there are people in need of kidneys out there, and why it’s important to, if you’re able, be a kidney donor or mark that you would be willing to be a kidney donor if something were to happen to you.”

Among the multiple ways that the NKFM can be a resource for community members, including education, Milavec said the foundation supports families who need dialysis.

Aside from seeking out family members and friends who may be a match to donate a kidney, Milavec discussed another way that those who need one can get a transplant.

“The other way of getting a kidney is being on the transplant list,” she said. “You’re usually on there if you can’t find a family member or friend to give you a kidney. You’re usually on there for about five to seven years, waiting for someone who dies, essentially, that was listed as an organ donor. … So it’s either a living or an, unfortunately, deceased donor.”

Milavec said most people spend years looking for a kidney.

“Every year they’re on a list waiting for someone to donate a kidney or receive a kidney their personal risk for mortality or complications increases,” she said. “So the longer that you’re on the list, the more likely you are to, unfortunately, get really sick or pass.”

Having a family member or friend in need of a kidney transplant can be an emotional and challenging journey for those who love them.

“It’s been very difficult,” Milavec said. “It’s really hard to see your friends and loved ones be sick. … What I’ve tried to do is be positive, optimistic, and do my best to support them. That’s why I’ve been so involved with our kidney foundation, making posts and doing Facebook Lives, so that people in the community and our friends and family can hear about it and get the word out.”

According to Milavec, family history, diabetes and hypertension are some factors that can cause kidney disease, and people can be affected at any age.

She shared the most effective ways community members can help.

“The best thing that they can do is become organ donors themselves. When you fill out your license, there’s a little place where they’ll ask you, ‘Do you want to be listed as an organ donor?’ … And then also donating to kidney foundations is another great way of helping families if there’s nothing you can really do.”

Stella was 20 years old when she had her first transplant approximately 12 years ago, after learning she had polycystic kidney disease.

Her transplant came via an anonymous deceased donor from Wisconsin.

Stella attended Farmington Hills Mercy before going on to attain a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wayne State University.

She also has an associate degree in nursing from Henry Ford Community College and is in the process of pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Michigan-Flint.

Stella is currently employed as a nurse and helps take care of people who have had liver transplants.

Despite understanding that needing a second transplant was probably “inevitable,” she wasn’t necessarily expecting to hear that news when she went for a monthly blood test and spoke with her transplant doctor in June.

“I was a little shocked, because my levels have been OK. But I’ve been trying to monitor myself, get healthy for another transplant, and kind of slow the progression,” Stella said. “I work as a transplant nurse, so it’s like all circling; my whole life is transplant right now. That keeps my mind off things; I just focus on other people.”

Leavy, who graduated from Northville High before earning both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Wayne State, said she’s not on dialysis yet, but for most people who are on it, it’s for 12 hours per week.

She shared some of the details of what life has been like since learning that she needs another transplant.

“I work full time, so it’s a lot to manage everything. I get tired a lot,” said Leavy, who is currently employed as a social worker. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster. I also got married in July, so all of the stuff was happening at the same time. But I’m managing with my support system and people being understanding.”

For more information or to make a contribution to the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan, visit nkfm.org.

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