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Former nurse and patient advocate is looking for a kidney. Now the mother of 4 has to advocate for herself

CHICAGO — Registered nurse Christine Hernandez was just entering her 40s when she asked her doctors about her kidney function.



a person sitting on a table: Christine Hernandez preps herself for dialysis at her home Sept. 18, 2020, in Chicago, Ill. Hernandez, a registered nurse, is suffering from stage 5 kidney failure. She has set up her sunroom as a "hemo center," where she performs all of the duties necessary for her dialysis.


© Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune/TNS
Christine Hernandez preps herself for dialysis at her home Sept. 18, 2020, in Chicago, Ill. Hernandez, a registered nurse, is suffering from stage 5 kidney failure. She has set up her sunroom as a “hemo center,” where she performs all of the duties necessary for her dialysis.

Knowing she had two brothers with kidney disease, she asked her primary care physician for a referral to a nephrologist.

Hernandez recalls her doctor saying that her kidney lab results were good, and there was no reason she should see a nephrologist. But Hernandez, a Chicago mother of four, said she had a feeling she had kidney disease too.

The referral was given, and the nephrologist biopsied her kidneys in 2016. Her kidneys were operating at only 30% of capacity, and that was without having symptoms, she said.

“I was just flabbergasted,” she said. “I cried. All these things went through my head really fast: I was like, ‘I have little kids. What’s going to happen to them? I’m a nurse; I’m supposed to help people. What’s going to happen to my career?’ I was in fight or flight mode — trying to figure out how could I fix it because in the medical field you could fix everything, right?

“Well, you can fix everything but a kidney. I asked my nephrologist if we can put a stent inside my kidney to open up, so it could get blood flow through it, and he says it’s too late for that.”

Hernandez was diagnosed with medullary cystic kidney disease, an inherited condition that ends in kidney failure. In Hernandez’s case, the condition resulted in her arteries atrophying. Her doctor recommended going on a strict diet and seeing a nephrologist often. But eventually she would need dialysis and a transplant. In a matter of four years, Hernandez says her condition has progressed pretty fast. She went from 10-hour days advocating for patients in hospitals to spending almost eight hours a day four days a week preparing, using and breaking down her home hemodialysis device, which purifies her blood. She’s on three different regional transplant lists around the country and hopes to add more. She’s also seeking a donor on her own via Facebook. Her family’s history of kidney disease prevents a relative from donating, she said.

“I’m just fighting for my life,” Hernandez said. “I’m trying to get my life back and live for my kids and go back to nursing, believe it or not. A lot of nurses are like, ‘Oh, with your condition, nurses would retire.’ But I’m not your average nurse. I want to go back and pay it forward; I want to help people.”

Hernandez, who worked with high-risk moms and babies at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and in the neonatal intensive care unit at Mount Sinai Hospital, will tell her story to a virtual audience Oct.