A gift of love and life

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04/29/2021

Brock Craft

Ally Brock’s mom didn’t think twice about donating a kidney to her daughter 11 years ago. Now, Ally works with other pediatric patients on their own transplant journey.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Ally Brock was just 5 when she was first introduced to the world of nephrology – the study and care of kidneys.

Twenty-one years later, she’s an expert in the field – both personally and professionally. It’s not a road she expected to take, but the journey has taught her a lot, especially about a mother’s love.

A nurse practitioner in pediatric nephrology at Riley Hospital for Children today, Ally is also a longtime patient. She received a kidney transplant at the age of 15 with her mom as her donor. Now she merges past and present by working with the same team of doctors and transplant coordinators who cared for her as a teenager.

She was diagnosed as a child with kidney dysplasia, a condition that resulted in at least one of her kidneys failing to properly develop in the womb. A biopsy when she was in seventh grade revealed something else – IgA nephropathy, also known as Berger’s disease, which occurs when deposits build up in the kidneys, causing inflammation that damages tissue.

“Around that time is when my kidneys really started failing, but I felt OK until about the age of 14,” Ally said.

That’s when she lost her appetite and her energy, dropping about 20 pounds. It was time for a transplant, and lucky for Ally, her mom was a good match.

When it came time for the surgery, performed by IU Health transplant surgeon Dr. William Goggins, Ally’s mom, Jill, had her sister by her side at IU Health University Hospital, while then-15-year-old Ally had her dad, Bob, to watch over her, first at University, then at Riley while she recovered.

It wasn’t until she got older that she better understood the significance of her mother’s gift, but now she can’t thank her enough.

“I know the decision was not a big deal to her,” Ally said. “She was going to do it, no matter what. But at the time I didn’t understand … that it is a pretty awesome gift and she completely changed my life. I went from feeling pretty sick to feeling great and living a normal life. I’m very, very thankful for that.”

Both mother and daughter continue to do well today. Jill Brock, a nurse herself, lives a healthy lifestyle, and her renal function is excellent, despite having only one kidney, said Ally, who went on to play high school tennis for three years post-transplant.

When Ally decided she wanted to study nursing in college, her mom tried to talk her out of it, concerned that the anti-rejection medications Ally takes would leave her vulnerable to infections, particularly in a hospital setting.

She spoke with Ally’s nephrologist, Dr. Corina Nailescu, and her transplant coordinator, Mary Lynn Subrin, separately to get their opinions. Both gave the green light.

“We gave her this kidney for a reason, and that is to live her life to the fullest,” Ally recalled them saying. “As long as I took precautions, they were fine with me going into healthcare.”

It’s a decision she’s never regretted, though she didn’t go straight to nephrology. She took a detour to cardiac care, working in the Riley Heart Center for a few years before deciding to go back to school to get her nurse practitioner degree.

She loved every bit of her time in the Heart Center, but it was a clinical rotation in nephrology with Dr. Nailescu, now medical director of the pediatric transplant program, that brought her back to her roots.

After graduating in May of 2020, she joined the nephrology team as an NP in August. She works primarily with outpatient transplant kids, in addition to seeing some babies in the NICU who have acute kidney injuries.

The best part of the job for her is working with her own transplant team from 11 years ago, including Dr. Goggins, Dr. Nailescu, Dr. Myda Khalid and Subrin, her transplant coordinator.

“They’re all like family to me.”

Subrin has worked in transplant for 36 years, first as a nurse, then moving into the transplant coordinator role in 1988.

“Ally is one of the thousands of reasons I love transplant,” she said. “We get to take care of the patients and watch them grow up.”

Subrin remembers Ally as an attentive 15-year-old when she was transplanted, listening to every word her care team told her.

“Ally wanted to become a nurse, and her mom was so worried about her immune system, and I told her: ‘This is why we transplant people, so they can go on to have a normal life.’ I told her mom we transplant teachers, farmers, laborers, doctors and nurses, and Ally could be a nurse.”

Having her former patient working with her now is a treat, Subrin said, describing her as a “huge positive force for transplant.”

“Ally is like my third child. I’m so proud of her!”

The joy Subrin feels is matched by Ally’s enthusiasm for working with transplant patients and for organ donation.

“For people to make the decision to donate organs is awesome,” she said. “Although having a transplant is hard, I tell patients you can still live a very normal life and go to college and work in whatever field you want. I was where you are,” she shares with them.

Now, 11 years out from her transplant, she said her mom’s donated kidney is still working well. She gets monthly labs to check her numbers and sees her doctor every six months. Outside of work, she loves riding her bike, exercising and visiting national parks.

What does Riley mean to her?

“As a patient, I’m very thankful for the team I had and for the gift of life. As a nurse and a nurse practitioner, I have a whole different love for Riley. To be on the transplant journey with these kids is an honor.”

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org