When the University of Oregon Class of 2018 celebrated its commencement, there was one graduate who was particularly grateful to be marking this accomplishment.
Karen Seifert, who started college in 2011, had suffered through a small bowel repair, two other major surgeries, and a period during which she was nearly homebound. Because of her medical issues and her need to take time off, it took Karen seven years - but after a kidney autotransplant at University Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, she was finally healthy enough to finish school and start her professional life.
In 2014, Karen was diagnosed with superior mesenteric artery syndrome, a disorder in which a portion of the duodenum is compressed between the abdominal aorta and the superior mesenteric artery due to lack of a fat plate. Because of that, she experienced severe weight loss and needed a feeding tube for a short amount of time to try to obtain the nutrition she needed. Her doctors hoped the feeding tube would help the fat plate grow back, but it didn't, so they performed a surgery during which they rebuilt her fat plate and rerouted her small intestine. That helped for a while, but she continued to experience problems and saw doctor after doctor, hoping for an answer.
After multiple diagnoses - including a small bowel blockage and median arcuate ligament syndrome (MALS), a condition in which the median arcuate ligament presses too tightly on the celiac artery and for which Karen had another surgery - she was diagnosed with nutcracker syndrome, yet another vascular compression disorder that can lead to loin pain hematuria syndrome (LPHS). LPHS causes loin pain on one or both sides of the body and blood in the urine. For Karen, it resulted in more than just pain - she also had extreme nausea, difficulty urinating, fatigue and weakness. She had to withdraw from school and move home to Newport, Ore., with her parents because she was too weak to go to class. "It was debilitating to the point where I struggled to make it off the couch to go to the grocery store," says Karen.
Unfortunately, no one in Oregon had any good options for treating Karen. Then, her mother learned about the LPHS Clinic at UW Health through a Facebook group. She also found that transplant surgeons at UW Health performed kidney autotransplants which had resulted in miraculous recoveries for other patients. Karen and her mother visited UW Health in August 2017, and three months later, Karen had the autotransplant. The transplant surgeons removed Karen's kidney and transplanted it into a new location.
Karen's recovery was difficult, but her pain faded, and she slowly regained some of the energy she had lost. She was able to return to school for the spring 2018 semester, and she graduated just a few months later. Karen found a job as an e-learning teacher at a high school in her hometown, and she hopes to earn her master's degree in school counseling.
"My health is better than I could have imagined it being right now," she says. "I believe God brought me to UW Health, which ended up being a true blessing."