A car accident is almost never thought of as a “good thing,” and it wasn’t for Newhall resident Valerie Day, either — at first.
In 2009, Day was in a very bad car accident. Her airbag didn’t deploy, so her head hit the dashboard, causing a traumatic brain injury, which essentially ended her career as a businesswoman.
“I used to be in a whole different world in life,” she said. “I didn’t know my life was going to stop … It’s very humbling, but I’m very grateful for every single day.”
In the years following the accident, Day said she had to have regular MRIs every couple years to ensure that everything was still functioning properly.
Then on a Monday in November 2017, two days before her scheduled MRI, Day remembers going in for a blood test, which the doctors required her do before every scan with “contrast,” as the fluid flows through her other organs.
“On Tuesday, my primary care physician and my neurologist called me — both of them,” Day said. “And nobody usually calls, I would’ve just gone and done the MRI because everything is usually normal.”
The doctors told her to get to the hospital immediately.
“I’m a very strong-willed person, and so I said, ‘There’s no need, I have an appointment and I’ll see you tomorrow,’” Day said.
They then proceeded to explain to her that if she didn’t get to the hospital soon, she would “no longer be on the face of this Earth” — her creatinine level had come back abnormal and her kidneys were failing.
“I felt fine,” she said. “I had no signs, no symptoms — I was just living my life.”
She rushed to the hospital where a team was waiting for her.
“They took me immediately in, got me hooked up to everything, and started fluids and all of that to sustain life,” she said.
Day was placed on a renal diet and spent just shy of two weeks in the hospital while the doctors performed numerous tests in order to figure out what caused her kidneys to begin failing.
“They couldn’t understand it,” she said.
After leaving the hospital, Day was sent for a kidney biopsy, which allowed doctors to determine that biotin, a hair growth vitamin that Day had been taking daily, was the believed cause of her kidney failure.
Over the course of the next few months, Day was kept on a renal diet, which is low in sodium, phosphorus and protein, and said she was “manaical” when it came to following the rules.
In April 2018, Day’s mother began noticing that something was wrong. Day had stopped getting out of bed, and though she believed she just wasn’t feeling well, her mother knew otherwise.
“My mom came upstairs, and she can hardly get up stairs, got me out of bed and took me to the hospital,” she added. “If my mom hadn’t done that, I would not be here.”
She arrived at the hospital with a dangerously low blood pressure, and doctors told her she had been within minutes of passing.
Doctors realized the renal diet alone wouldn’t correct the problem, and Day went into surgery to have a catheter inserted so she could begin dialysis, the process of removing excess water, other fluids and toxins from the blood in people whose kidneys can no longer perform those functions naturally.
Day then began going to dialysis three and sometimes four days a week.
“I’m there for about four hours, but actually dialyzing for three and a half,” Day said. “Now we’re taking every bit of fluid out of me through dialysis because if fluid is collecting around your organs and around your heart, it can make you go into cardiac arrest or other organ failure.”
Day has a good cleaning ratio and filtering rate, which means she has to go for less time than others, who may have to go five days a week for as long as five to six hours.
The dialysis diet? Even stricter than the renal diet.
“There are eight pages of things that we can’t have, the list of what we can have is smaller,” Day said.
Originally, doctors believed she had a 90% chance of her kidneys recovering with dialysis, but those odds quickly went to zero over the course of the next few months.
“In the next four to five months, both kidneys completely died,” she said.
But “life doesn’t stop because we’re in kidney failure, and it’s a totally different perspective now and that’s okay,” she said. Day has continued attending church, caring for her mother and even trying to date.
“We didn’t have dialysis 70 years ago — I would’ve been dead,” she said. “It is amazing how it works, it really is — I’m fascinated by it. I’m so blessed and grateful for what we have now to keep people like me alive.”
In August 2018, Day underwent another surgery where doctors severed an artery and a vein, then sewed them together, this time to have a fistula put in, to allow for extra blood to flow for easier access to blood vessels.
“One (needle) takes the blood and fluid out and cleans it in the machine, then it comes back to the other one,” she said. “That is the life now.”
Every day, Day said she tries to go into the dialysis center with a positive attitude, “constantly willing and wanting to talk to people, especially new people who are scared and don’t know what to expect.
“I want to encourage people not to lose hope.”
Many tell her she doesn’t look sick, which is “really hard to hear because we’re not faking being sick, we’re faking being well,” she added.
Now, Day is at end-stage kidney failure, which not only means that both of her kidneys are dead, but also that if she misses even one dialysis session, her life expectancy goes down by 51%.
“If I don’t go to dialysis in one week, I’m dead,” she said. “I’ve never missed a dialysis.”
Day went on to explain that people can stay on dialysis “as long as your body can tolerate it.”
“Do they live the life that I would like to live or they would like to live? No. But I am refusing to let my attitude sink me — we’ve got to keep going.”
The waiting time for a donor kidney in the Los Angeles area is five to 10 years, potentially longer depending on your blood type, and the national waiting list continues to grow every year, according to UCLA Health.
Just to get on the list, Day has had to go through a multitude of tests.
“Everything including your teeth have to be in good working order, meaning no other issues can compromise you getting a kidney, because it’s a big deal,” she said.
Day has two more tests to go, and she is two appointments away from being officially on the list, which she said can open up a lot more possibilities.
Still, nobody knows how long a donor kidney will last, as everyone’s bodies react completely differently.
“I believe in my health and my personal desire and conviction to make it work that my chances are going to be 100%, however (to be) realistic, I’m probably looking at 80%,” she said. “And then it’s certainly not going to (last) forever, but it’s going to give me a significant rest of my life because I’m 58, and I don’t want to leave this Earth, yet. If I do, it’s OK because I’m OK with where I’m going, but I don’t want to — there’s just so many things in life still for me to experience, and I know that I still have much to give.”
To help Valerie, visit her GoFundMe page or to find out if you can be a living donor, go to usclivingdonor.org and fill out the questionnaire. You can request your kidney donation to go directly to Valerie.