About four months ago Jamie Klein Dubendorf couldn’t walk up the stairs in her Clarksburg home without almost passing out. Now, thanks to a new kidney from her husband, she has no trouble.
For seven years, Jamie, 29, had been feeling “a little off.” She said she constantly felt tired but didn’t know why.
“I started losing my appetite,” she said. “It sucks the life out of you. I literally felt like a walking corpse.”
Jamie said she visited her doctor in 2005 about the symptoms, which included extreme fatigue, but wasn’t able to get any answers about what she was suffering from.
“My kidney function was elevated, but [my doctor] said ‘You’re young, you have nothing to worry about,’” she said.
“The doctor would say ‘Oh you’re fine,’ and she would still not feel right, it was the same thing over and over,” said her husband, James Dubendorf, 25.
After being misdiagnosed again in 2009, Jamie was able to get some of her blood test results. It was after some online research and a conversation with a representative from the American Kidney Foundation that she realized that something was wrong.
It was during the couple’s engagement in 2009 that Jamie was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis — a form of kidney disease that can cause kidney failure.
“At [first] I don’t think it felt real to me, so I wasn’t that upset about it,” she said. “Later that day I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I have kidney disease.’”
After four years of dating, Jamie and James were married on March 27, 2010, in Beltsville.
Less than a year later, Jamie received the news that she needed a kidney transplant.
While waiting to be placed on the transplant list she said she lost her job doing accounting work and was diagnosed with celiac disease, a digestive condition triggered by consuming gluten.
“I had a couple of bumps in the road,” she said.
Jamie was placed on the kidney transplant list in February of this year. Soon after, James, as well as Jamie’s sister and her brother-in-law were tested to see if they were a match. In the end, James was the best match for the donation.
“I didn’t think twice,” James said. “For me just actually seeing her every day suffering, I really wanted her to be better.”
“I was so thankful that he was donating his kidney. It is the most amazing thing you can do for anybody. You’re literally saving somebody’s life,” she said. “But in a way, while I was sick, I felt kind of guilty like he was forced to do it. Of course he didn’t view it like that.”
The surgery took about three hours for James and four for Jamie. Without James’s kidney, Jamie said she could have waited at least two years for another donor.
The two had the transplant on May 11 at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. Four days after the surgery the couple returned home.
“I could have gone home earlier but I stayed because she was there,” James said.
Now, four months later, Jamie has overcome a few complications, including hydronephrosis — an obstruction in the urinary tract — and said she is feeling much better.
“I can’t complain because I have a kidney now, and I’m feeling a lot better than I was,” she said. “It’s the most amazing feeling.”
“Even when she was in the hospital you could just tell she was feeling better,” James said. “It was like when I first met her. I told her ‘I got my Jamie back.’”
Doctors have told Jamie that the first year is the most critical, as they watch for signs of rejection and other complications. Jamie will have to take medication for the rest of her life.
As for the couple, they say they are closer than ever.
“You just kind of form a closer bond, I mean his organ is inside me,” Jamie said. “How could we not be closer.”
“I love her to death, and I’m just glad that I can see her healthy again,” James said.
To Jamie and her family James is a hero, a label that he says he doesn’t like to give himself.
“Her dad just keeps telling me ‘I’ll never be able to thank you enough,’” he said. “I just did what I hope anybody would do.”