A St. John's couple is pulling out all the stops in search of a new kidney after the COVID-19 pandemic halted any progress in finding a donor.
Karen Halleran, 42, was diagnosed with a rare disease in 2011 called granulomatosis with polyangiitis, commonly referred to as GPA and formerly known as Wegener's disease. The disease causes blood vessels to become enflamed in the sinuses, lungs and kidneys.
Just 15 days after her diagnosis, Halleran suffered renal kidney failure and has been on dialysis ever since.
"I've had to leave work and go on disability," Halleran said Friday.
"I've missed so many milestones in everybody's life. I have to choose my events wisely, I can't get to everything because most days I'm on dialysis or I'm recovering from dialysis. It's been life altering."
She said the search for a new kidney has been difficult due to antibodies that have been developed through treatment. If the antibodies of a donor are similar to Halleran's, there is a high risk the kidney will be rejected.
"In order for me to find a kidney, it's going to be very challenging. The doctors have told me that," she said. "They say we're looking for a needle in a haystack. But the needle exists, we just need to expand our pool."
To expand the search pool, Karen and her husband, Leonard, put up a billboard in February in search of a potential donor — before the pandemic brought medical procedures to a halt.
"Feb. 10 I think the billboard went up. And we were getting great traction, lots of calls," Karen said. "And then COVID hit. Transplants across the board stopped."
The couple decided to put up the billboard again two weeks ago.
Karen said the inspiration for the billboard came following a life-threatening event around Christmas when she noticed a hole in her catheter on the way to a dialysis appointment.
We're hoping that someone will give her the gift of life and get her back on track. - Leonard Halleran
"I had to meet with the vasculitis team the next morning, and ended up in the ICU," she said. "From that procedure, my superior vena cava [vein] became blocked and my complete upper torso went into blood clot mode. I had blood clots everywhere, and I didn't think I was going to make it."
"We did nearly lose her in December, and that was a turning point for me," Leonard added. "Whatever I have to do, whether it's signs, t-shirts, I'm going to try it all."
He said no matches came out of the first round of billboards, but said there were many calls that came out of the search for a donor with O-type blood.
"We've tried everything.… All our family members that would have been a match, we've tried that and [they've] all failed... now we're just trying to broaden the search. A living donor is the way to go," he said.
"We're hoping that someone will give her the gift of life and get her back on track."