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Taking a Stand to Change Family History

Candi Zitzka

When Candi started seeing family members affected by the disease, she took matters into her own hands.

Many families carry genetic burdens of disease. Illnesses like breast cancer or chronic issues such as high blood pressure are frequently attributed to family history. For Candi Zitzka, her family's burden has been the debilitating disease of polycystic kidney disease (PKD). When Candi started seeing family members affected by the disease, she took matters into her own hands and decided to give an incredible gift: her kidney.

Candi's first introduction to the disease came a little over a year ago when her second cousin, Kenny, was diagnosed with PKD. She did not fully grasp all the details of the illness, but upon finding out that he would need a kidney, she and her mother immediately went to get tested for compatibility to donate. Both women received incompatible results, but Candi's mother, unwilling to give up, signed up for a program called Pay It Forward at Loyola Hospital. Candi's mother then donated her kidney to a stranger with whom she was a match, in return for someone donating one to Kenny. The surgeries were successful and thankfully Kenny and Candi's mother are both healthy and well today.

Two months after the surgery for her cousin, Candi was faced with another relative seriously affected by PKD. This time is was her Uncle Dave who was fighting failure in both of his kidneys. The dialysis left him looking drained at family parties. Determined, Candi again went to get tested as a possible kidney donor for her uncle. Miraculously, she was a match. "When I got the call that I was a direct match I almost fell off my chair!" Candi said. "What are the odds of that happening?"

However, despite the green light from the doctors who confirmed her compatibility, Candi's uncle was extremely reluctant to agree because she was so young and healthy. "He fought me day after day," she said.

Candi Zitzka

On September 19, newlywed Candi went into surgery and gave her uncle a second chance at life.

But in the end, Candi won the fight and convinced her uncle to undergo the surgery with her two months after her wedding. On September 19, newlywed Candi went into surgery and gave her uncle a second chance at life. The surgery was one of the best transplants her surgeon had seen. "He said he had never seen a donated kidney turn so pink and start working so fast," Candi said.

After the transplant, it didn't take Candi long to get back on their feet. "I am perfectly healthy," she said. "I live my life as I was everyday before my surgery. We are buying a house, planning a vacation and wanting to start a family soon. I live a normal life." And her uncle is a totally new person, she said. "The fact that I see my uncle and cousin at family parties and they're laughing and cracking jokes, that makes this whole thing worth it."

Since the surgery, Candi has been doing all she can to spread awareness about PKD and organ donation. After hearing about the PKD Foundation from Kenny, who participates in the annual Walk for PKD, she decided to start a fundraiser. After planning and promoting the event, Candi raised $1,200 and sent it to the PKD Foundation.

In the future, Candi plans to continue her involvement with the Foundation and in the fight against the disease, which has affected so many of her loved ones. She also encourages others to explore organ donation. "If you can help somebody, do it," she said. "Don't do it to be in the spotlight—do it from your heart because it's something you want to do. Do it so another person can be happy and healthy again."

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