Renal autotransplant

Jenna finds an end to her chronic pain

Jenna Christoffern wearing sunglasses on her head

For years, Jenna Christoffer was not able to be the kind of mom she hoped to be. She wanted to play with her kids, but was simply too tired, so she would suggest a movie night instead. She also had persistent headaches and chronic pain in her left side, but doctors simply shrugged their shoulders and said she would have to learn to live with it.

Then, Jenna met David Foley, MD, FACS, and the renal autotransplant team at University Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, and she finally found the answers she was seeking. Now, she is recovering from a renal autotransplant—a procedure that has helped many people who thought they would be in pain for the rest of their lives. “I can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she says.

Five years ago, Jenna, who lives in Castalia, Iowa, learned she had Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder that can cause heart palpitations and fatigue. When she tried to find treatment to ease her symptoms, doctors told her that her body was going to hurt, and there was nothing she could do about it. Then, in April 2020, Jenna became very sick with excruciating back pain. During one of the computed tomography (CT) scans her doctors ordered, a doctor mentioned her vein was pinched, but said it wasn’t a big deal.

Jenna, however, felt she had just learned some important information. She started Googling “pinched veins,” and soon she discovered nutcracker syndrome, a rare condition in which the vein that drains the left kidney is compressed by an artery in the abdomen, resulting in significant pain. “I thought, this is my life!” she says.

In her research, Jenna found the UW Health Renal Autotransplant Program, one of the only programs in the nation that was helping people with nutcracker syndrome and other vein compression diseases. Dr. Foley agreed to see her in February 2021, and sure enough, he found she had nutcracker syndrome. More importantly, he knew he could fix it. “That was so huge,” Jenna says, “getting validation that I wasn’t crazy. There really was something wrong with me!”

After a few more tests, Jenna scheduled her renal autotransplant for May 7. During the procedure, Dr. Foley removed her left kidney and ureter and placed them in a different spot near her right hip. She stayed in Madison for a week, then traveled back to Iowa to recover at home.

Now, Jenna is feeling herself slowly return to normal. Her headaches—which had been constant for many months—are gone, and she feels better every week. She and her family recently moved to a farm, and the fresh air and scenery have been good for her recovery. “I’ve just been so happy with UW Health,” she said. “The staff has been amazing.”