The gift of life

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Ashlea Moravec and Kara Franey

Ashlea Moravec knew something was amiss as early as 2004.

After she gave birth to her first child, there were signs of kidney problems. 

Nothing came of those complications, though doctors performed a kidney biopsy in 2007 and discovered Moravec had Thin Basement Membrane Disease. 

They told her she would still live a normal life and was not at risk for problems like kidney failure. 

After Moravec had her second child in 2013, however, her kidney health started to decline more rapidly. Doctors completed another kidney biopsy in April, and found Moravec only had 13 percent kidney function. 

“I was scared,” the 36-year-old recalled. “I have two children, one in high school and one in grade school. It was definitely scary not knowing what was in store for my future.” 

Doctors soon diagnosed Moravec with Alport syndrome, a rare genetic condition characterized by kidney disease, hearing loss and eye abnormalities, according to the National Institutes of Health. 

That meant the Waterloo woman needed to start dialysis treatment, so Moravec began the process to get approved for a transplant, which would increase her life expectancy dramatically. 

That involved Moravec getting tested for numerous diseases and for the possibility of diseases. 

She was listed on the transplant list on Sept. 27. 

Based on her blood type, it was going to take 8-10 years to find a cadaver donor, by which point it may have been too late. 

That’s when Moravec’s friend, Kara Franey, decided she would donate a kidney to the woman she had known since grade school. 

“Kara stepped right up and said ‘I want to give you my kidney,” Moravec said. “So she had to go through that lengthy process to make sure she was healthy enough to give one of her kidneys away. And she was and here we are.”

Franey, who lives in Dupo, said she knew her friend of over 20 years was in poor health, but did not know how bad it was. 

In April, Franey and her sister, Sara Cordevant, visited Moravec in the hospital and joked they would happily give her a kidney. 

When Moravec’s condition worsened, Franey decided she was serious and wanted to donate her organ. 

“Ashlea’s a great person, and, being a mother myself, I would never want to have to worry about not being able to watch my children grow,” Franey said. “If I could help somebody out, why not?” 

Moravec said she cannot express her gratitude for Franey’s “gift of life.” 

“I felt very grateful and blessed,” she said. “I was also kind of scared at the same time… I was scared for her.”

Neither woman had ever had major medical problems before or had surgery, so they felt some anxiety around that.

Franey said she had mixed emotions before the procedure. 

“It was scary and exciting,” she said. “There was a bunch of emotions, but I knew the outcome was going to be good.” 

That is what happened, as the friends went under the knife Dec. 11 at Saint Louis University Hospital. There were no complications, and Moravec immediately started to improve.

Both women are recovering now. 

After spending only four days in the hospital, Moravec went home with 20 prescriptions, including an anti-rejection medication she must take for the rest of her life. 

Even with those medications, Moravec said she is feeling better than she has in months. 

“I am so happy, and I’m looking forward to the future,” she said. “Since April, I’ve been thinking ‘what’s going to happen to me? Am I going to see my kids graduate high school?’ Now, I think if I take care of this kidney, I could possibly have a kidney for the next 20-plus years or who knows how long.” 

Franey said she hopes more people do what she did when needed. 

“I would do it again in a heartbeat if I had to,” she said. “I wish more people would be more open to doing it. Actually going through it and seeing someone recovering from it, it’s awesome.” 

Moravec expressed similar sentiments. 

“I’m hoping I can be an advocate for people, especially for people who are possibly going to have a transplant and are scared,” she said. “I’d love to speak with them and give them the hope that I had and let them know it really is a great thing if someone is willing to give you the gift of life.” 

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