Two years ago, this mom from Welkom in the Free State saved her daughter’s life by donating a kidney. But Lisa Steenberg (33) paid a hefty price for this life-saving act.
Lisa says it’s all worth it though. If she had to do it again, she’d still give her daughter Larochelle (15) a kidney. The transplant was performed two years ago at the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital in Johannesburg.
But in the two years since the surgery in October 2017, Lisa’s selfless act has taken its toll on her health.
“My body’s really battling,” she told us. “But Larochelle is doing very well. She’s such an outgoing person – she’s always off with her friends,” Lisa tells us about her daughter, who turns 16 on 21 June.
“Larochelle was never a people’s person before but now she truly enjoys spending time with people and her friends. She’s a bubbly child. She teases that I didn’t only give her a kidney – I gave her my attitude too.”
She says Larochelle is also doing well at school and is looking forward to her Grade 9 year.
In a way, it seems as if she and her daughter have swopped places.
Before Larochelle received her mom’s kidney just more than two years ago, she was permanently tired and worn out. She needed dialysis six times a day and had only 5% kidney function.
It was a close call and Larochelle, whose chronic kidney failure was diagnosed in 2015, nearly didn’t survive.
In January 2017 the writing was on the wall: if Larochelle didn’t urgently get a new kidney, she’d die. So, Lisa set out to save her daughter’s life and by October of that year had lost about 60kg in order to donate the vital organ.
Larochelle completely recovered after the transplant, but Lisa hasn’t.
In May last year, Lisa suffered a setback. She was told her remaining kidney wasn’t functioning optimally. The once healthy woman’s blood pressure also became an issue, and from there her health has steadily deteriorated.
“I’m sick all the time. I’m perpetually exhausted. Everything’s just a mess. With all the testing [to see if she’s a suitable donor], I developed an abscess in my buttock and the thing just isn’t getting any better. It keeps growing and it hurts permanently.”
Due to her ill health, she’s had to scale down on her work at a fast-food restaurant in Riebeeckstad, near Welkom. Meanwhile her husband, Donald, has been retrenched from his job as a diesel mechanic at a mine.
It’s completely destroyed the couple’s finances. And to top it all, their marriage is crumbling.
“In the beginning, we received many donations but that eventually dried up. We still have to take Larochelle for monthly visits to the Universitas Academic Hospital in Bloemfontein for immune-supressing medication [to keep her body from rejecting the kidney]. Our car is in a state and keeps breaking down.
“It just feels like blow after blow. Sometimes I think something like this can break you completely.”
Lisa tries to be strong though. Asked if she’d donate a kidney again, she answers without hesitation. “As long as my children are happy, I’m happy. Any mother who loves her child would do what I did, and I’d do it again.”
She says Larochelle’s sister, Nicole (13), is going to high school this year. She chuckles when she tells us the two teen girls are always bickering.
“Nicole has so much love to give. She’s also gone through a lot with her sister’s illness. She’s a tremendous help at home. The only thing she avoids at all costs is doing the dishes.
“Larochelle is my emotional support because now I’m the one who’s always tired.”