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A terrible diagnosis is not a sentence: an amazing story of how a mother saved her daughter’s life in New Jersey


Alina Prikhodko

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Caitlin Seigel from Clark, New Jersey, felt constantly nauseous. At 15, she was lethargic and pale, unable to eat, and lack of nutrition was making her increasingly weaker. She didn't want to socialize with friends or participate in school activities for fear that she might get sick. An amazing story of love, family values ​​and healing told USAtoday.

The examination showed that the girl’s kidneys function at only 10%. Caitlin's parents, Jennifer and Ken, were at a loss. “It was a very difficult time,” Jennifer says.

Caitlin has CMT (Charcot-Marie-Tooth) dental disease, a group of genetic disorders that affect the peripheral nerves. It is an inherited neuromuscular disorder that can lead to problems with muscle tone, strength and coordination, especially in the legs and arms. The severity of the disease can vary greatly, but Caitlin has a rare, more serious form of the incurable disease.

The Seigels knew Caitlin would need a transplant. But they knew what it would entail: Ken also has a hereditary genetic mutation and has undergone three kidney transplants, the first in 1987. “It’s not that we wanted this experience for our child,” says Ken, “But we knew what to expect.”

The family made a decision

Ken is now 54 years old and works in advertising sales. He remembers getting up early on the morning of his graduation to get dialysis done. He talks openly about his medical history: “You grow up faster and you just start to accept it.”

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But when she and Jennifer saw Caitlin struggle with the disease, they knew they didn't want her to go on dialysis. They contacted Cooperman-Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey, so Jennifer could register as a living donor and be tested to see if she was a match for Caitlin.

Everything went well

Mother and daughter had surgery on Aug. 2, and the results for Caitlin were positive almost immediately. Her new kidney is fully functional and she has returned to a normal life, back to school and spending time with her friends again. They are also grateful to the doctors and nurses who took good care of them both.

45-year-old Jennifer had no doubt about giving a kidney to her daughter. The doctor told her, 'You'll be fine, you have two kids' (the Seigels also have a 13-year-old son), and I knew I had to do this for Caitlin," she said.

Kidney transplants typically have a more difficult recovery for donors than for recipients, and while Jennifer says there was a lot of normal post-op pain, she felt joy knowing her daughter's life would be back on track.

“She came in sick and came out healthy,” says Jennifer, “and I came in healthy and just needed time to recover.” Still, she said, it was “worth it.” “The pain I went through means nothing compared to getting better.”

Normal life

The whole family is grateful that Caitlin is returning to her normal happy and energetic self. Caitlin dreams of attending the Tony Awards (June 16, 2024), but mostly, she says, she's happy because she's “living a normal teenage life.”

“We are very grateful,” Jennifer said. – Almost four months have passed. Life with children flies by very quickly. She was very sick, then had surgery, went back to school in September and is now back to normal. When I stop thinking about it, I just go crazy.”

Jennifer has also returned to her normal life, going to the gym several times a week, raising her children with her husband and working as a mortgage loan officer. They're both optimistic about their daughter's future, and for good reason.

“Look at me,” says Ken. “I have a good, productive life and a wonderful family.”

CMT is not the only trait that has been inherited. Care, compassion and love are the main things in this family. Jennifer's mother, a personal trainer, volunteered to be a donor (at 71, she was already out of the eligible age range for the program). And Ken had his first kidney transplant when he was a teenager. His father became the donor.

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