An Albuquerque woman has been battling a kidney disease for most of her life. Recently her prognosis worsened and she found out she needed a transplant.

After asking friends, Helen Nielsen, said it was a co-worker who stepped in and said: “Where do I sign up?”
Nielsen is the human resources director at Lovelace Health System. She’s worked for Lovelace for eight years, and across the way is her friend, Melanie Wagner. Wagner has also been with the hospital for eight years as a director of materials management.

Nielsen was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease in her late twenties. The disease is an inherited disorder in which cysts take over the kidneys, causing them to enlarge and lose function over time.

Nielsen said it’s common in her family.    

“My mother had it, my aunt and I have two cousins who have it,” she said. “About two years ago, they told me ‘Hey you’re entering stage four kidney failure.” 

Two weeks ago, Nielsen entered into stage five. Nielsen said she’s had two other close friends that volunteered to be donors; one wasn’t a match and the other just didn’t work out.

“We’re a close family here at Lovelace,” Nielsen said.

However, she admits the anticipation did take a toll on her physically and emotionally. 

“It’s like you get built up, you kind of start making plans for everything to take place and you hear it’s not a match. You know it’s devastating,” Nielsen said. 

That’s until Wagner started medical testing in September and discovered she was a match.

“One of the questions that I’ve heard from multiple people is ‘Well gosh what if your kids need a kidney and now you don’t have one to donate?’ and it was always the guilt of those things,” Wagner said.

However, Wagner said saving a friend’s life far outweighs any type of guilt.

“I’m thinking if your friend, if their life was at risk, would you really stand there and say ‘I’m sorry I just can’t?'” she said.

For that, Nielsen said she can’t think of much other than to be grateful.

“Words can’t really describe the opportunity I’ve been given by such a beautiful person inside and out,” Nielsen said.

The kidney transplant is scheduled for next month. The surgery will happen at the University of New Mexico Hospital.