Mindy Lam’s illness came on suddenly. She was in New York, just back from a cruise on which she did a trunk show for her jewelry business, when swelling and difficulty walking put her in a wheelchair. A few days later, her symptoms sent her to the emergency room.
While in the hospital, her heart stopped, and doctors had to shock her twice to get it going again.
“It was really scary,” said her daughter, Kelly Sia. “A few days later, she couldn’t even walk.”
A doctor diagnosed Lam with kidney failure due to untreated high blood pressure. She had not felt sick until her kidney was damaged beyond repair.
“She didn’t know the seriousness — none of us did,” Sia said.
Doctors in New York saved Lam’s life, and she was transferred to the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. When Sia arrived at the hospital, her mother was asleep, but a nurse gave her more bad news.
“The nurse said it was actually her kidney that failed, and said she might need a donor soon,” Sia recalled. “I volunteered the first second I heard that.”
At that time, Sia was only 16 — too young to be legally able to donate her kidney. She and other relatives offered to donate, but Lam refused, thinking it would be too risky.
For almost three years, Lam took dialysis treatments at least four times a day, while Sia tried to convince her to accept her kidney for a transplant when she turned 18, if she was a match.
“I grew up within a night,” Sia said. “... I realized that my mom might die one day. We never think of it until it’s close to us. I realized I can’t abuse my mom’s love; I can’t take it for granted.”
Sia, now 19, has lived in Rockville with her mother since Sia’s freshman year of high school. While their relationship had not always been good, Sia said she gained respect for her mother after seeing how hard she worked to provide for her. Going through Lam’s illness together changed their relationship for the better.
“I was able to take care of her and stay next to her, and that was some kind of comfort to me,” Sia said.
Last summer, Sia went to Hong Kong to visit her grandparents and extended family, but she thought of her mother, who hadn’t seen her parents in five years because she was too sick to travel.
“It hurt so much to know that my mom was missing so much,” she said.
When she returned home, Sia renewed her efforts to convince her mother to accept the transplant.
“(I said), she has to consider, if she was to die tomorrow, she might not see me grow up,” Sia said.
A cancer scare and learning that Sia was a match finally convinced Lam that a kidney transplant was the right decision. Doctors’ reassurances and the hope of being able to visit her parents in Hong Kong also helped make up her mind.
On Feb. 15, Lam and Sia went through surgery for Sia to donate one of her kidneys to her mother. Compared to the three long years of dialysis, Sia said recovery has been “like snapping a finger.”
“Before the surgery, my mom would walk in the mall, and she would get tired really quickly,” she said. “... After the surgery, within two months, I was able to get her to go to a gym with me, and she was able to walk on the treadmill for a whole mile.”
Lam also has started traveling for her business as a jewelry designer again. She said she still is regaining her strength and has to be careful of what she eats and to keep on her medication schedule, but she can be more active than before the transplant.
“I pretty much can go back to normal life,” Lam said. “I don’t have to worry (about) when I have to do my dialysis and rush home to do that.”
Lam agrees that going through kidney failure, dialysis and transplant surgery has brought her closer to her daughter.
“It makes me and my family and all the people surrounding me much closer,” she said. “Whoever would go through this with me, we are very close.”
Sia said she and her mother still argue, but they love each other. She hopes to remind other children to appreciate their parents.
She also wants to raise awareness of the many people still waiting for organ transplants.
“In Maryland, the wait could be up to two to eight years,” she said.
Despite her three-year ordeal, Lam said she has been blessed.
“I want people to know, no matter how (bad) they are, how sick they are, we can walk through this with the people who love us,” she said. “We have to be strong and fight. ...
“We might miss three years of Mother’s Days and birthdays, but we have much more to go.”