Neha Mittal is not usually brave about medical tests, but she has gone to heroic lengths to brave the trials and triumphs of being a kidney transplant candidate.
It all began in 2008, the year she got married and moved from Lucknow to Sydney. Like all newly married couples, Neha was enjoying life. The news of her pregnancy brought added joy and little did she know that life would throw in a host of ills.
“I suffered from gestational high blood pressure (preeclampsia) which eventually deteriorated my kidneys,” says Neha.
While preeclampsia is said to be the most common complication to occur during pregnancy, it can come with high blood pressure and other complications. Unfortunately for Neha, she had to undergo an emergency caesarean and her baby was delivered at six months. Within two months, she lost her baby. That was November 2008.
If the agony over the loss of her baby was not enough, Neha was confronted with the reality of having to prolong her kidney functions as much as she could. Things seemed to be going good for some time and she moved to Adelaide with her husband.
In Adelaide, Neha alleged her husband was having an extra-marital affair and also alleged suffering domestic violence. This, she argues, can never be acceptable. The five years of marriage ended in June 2013.
“Somehow my parents wanted me to get married again,” says Neha. So, later that year having met a wonderful man (Pawan) and his six-year old daughter (Siya), the desire to fill her life again with a modicum of happiness came true. She tied the knot for the second time in October 2013 and relocated back to Sydney.
Few months later around February 2014, Neha started experiencing stomach pains. Scans and ultra sounds showed a lesion on her right kidney. Further investigation revealed it was cancer. The nephrologist made the decision to remove the right kidney at a later date. And to live her life daily, with her left kidney working at just 5-7 percent, Neha had to be on dialysis which was started on September 2014 right through to 2015 when she had the nephrectomy or removal of the right kidney.
“Life is always full of struggles for me and I feel God has sent me the toughest exam,” reflects Neha.
The dialysis, of course, continued again after the operation. Neha explains there are two types of dialysis—peritoneal dialysis and hemodialysis. “Based on the condition of a patient, they choose what works. I was given peritoneal dialysis which means I had a catheter surgically inserted into my tummy. So, a 15 cm catheter hung out and I had to secure it with a tape to make sure I didn’t catch any infection as that could be life threatening.”
There were days when she couldn’t grasp the severity of her pain. “It was akin to giving birth to a baby,” she recalls, adding, “Even when I was deep in sleep, once the pain came I had to get up and walk up and down to ease the pain a bit.” For five years, Neha says she never had a sound straight eight hours’ sleep.
Dialysis cannot imitate the full function of a normal kidney. So, it came with a lot of restrictions on diet, social life, to name a few. There was a point when Neha was rushed to emergency as her intake of green vegetables exceeded the dangerous potassium levels in her blood which could have led to a cardiac arrest. “Life on a dialysis was very difficult and with fluid restrictions of only one litre a day, the summer months were tough.”
Yet, she made a conscious choice to focus on the positive. Despite 11 hours of dialysis a day, Neha kept up with her professional life working for the Commonwealth Bank, which she gradually cut down to part time from working full time.
With the support of her husband who also saw her interest in cooking, she started creating recipes and posting them on YouTube. “In Australia, we generally resort to short cuts and deny ourselves that authentic taste. So, we both created a channel Tips And Tricks Of My Kitchen to give viewers the real taste of Indian cuisines.”
Neha had a packed schedule and a batch of fans with 239k subscribers. She also received the Silver Play Button from YouTube when she crossed 100k subscribers.
At the same time, she reveals things were deteriorating on the health front and from 11 hours dialysis she had to go on to 24 hours towards the fourth year after her operation. Neha desperately needed a transplant as other organs were also starting to get compromised in the process.
In December 2018, Neha’s specialist told her that she was sitting on top five of the transplant wait list and that she should be ready.
Her hopes were starting to dwindle by March 2019. But what happens next is short of miracle. “On April 7, which was my birthday I got the call which changed my life. I couldn’t believe that God sent me on this earth on April 7 and on the same day he gave me a new lease of life, the best gift ever. Can you imagine?”
Recalling that surreal day, Neha says after watching her husband and daughter play lawn tennis, they treated themselves to a good breakfast at an Indian restaurant and got back home to an array of phone calls from friends and family wishing her as she turned 35. She noticed an incoming call from a private number. It was from Chris, the transplant coordinator, who said, “I have good news for you. I have a kidney for you.”
Neha burst into tears and felt her heart pumping. “It was tears of joy, anxiety and fear. I was a bag of mixed emotions.”
With strict instructions not to eat or drink anything, she had to reach Westmead Hospital as soon as possible. She missed eating the surprise cake which her husband and daughter bought, a small price for a bigger outcome.
In all this, Neha remembers being driven by a porter who read a prayer for her. He told her that he had taken hundreds of patients to the operation theatre and that they had all come out healthy and pink. “You will be one of them,” he assured her.
But myriad thoughts crossed her mind. “Will I be coming out alive? Will the transplant go OK? What will this hold for me?” It was also daunting signing the papers, she reveals.
Post operation when she came to, Neha remembers the doctor telling her everything went well and that her kidney started working immediately and started producing urine. She couldn’t process the words then but the next morning when she woke up, Neha says the best sight in her entire life was seeing her urine being made.
“It might be disgusting for others but when I saw that bag of urine, it excited me. It was such a satisfaction and such a relief to see my body was producing urine. It was the best feeling ever. We take things for granted and we don’t realise the beauty of it all unless something has gone wrong.”
It has been a year now since the transplant. “I can go anywhere, I can meet my friends… I have my life back now.”
Neha shows her explicit embrace of life and gratitude as she has joined the increasing number of Australians registered to be organ and tissue donors in the hope of repaying the incredible gift.
“I wasn’t sure whether I could be a donor as I was on so much medication and was a transplant recipient, but my doctor told me I can still donate my eyes, my heart, lung or pancreas, skin or tissue. So, I registered to be a donor the very next day,” she says.
Neha’s resilience and the ease with which she talks about her health makes the whole conversation around organ donation moving.
To register to be an organ and tissue donor, visit donatelife.gov.au. It only takes a minute. One donor could save the lives of up to seven people. DonateLife Week (26 Jul-2 Aug) aims to raise awareness of the importance of organ and tissue donation in Australia