Renal autotransplant

Makenzie's pain is gone after renal autotransplant

A girl smiling while sitting on a couch.

There were only about two months between the time when Makenzie Hall first started experiencing nutcracker syndrome, and the time when she found a treatment that would ease her pain. Compared with others who have had similar diagnoses, that’s very quick.

But for Makenzie, it felt like a lifetime.

The high school student woke up in excruciating pain on Jan. 8, 2024. Her parents rushed her to the emergency room, wondering if she had appendicitis, but doctors there thought she was instead suffering from lymph node inflammation and diarrhea. They treated her for those conditions, but Makenzie only got worse. “Strong pain medicine was not even touching the pain I was feeling,” said Makenzie.

Eventually, one of the medical residents at the hospital performed a computed tomography (CT) scan. After seeing the results, she remembered that a college friend had suffered from similar symptoms and received a nutcracker syndrome diagnosis. Nutcracker syndrome is a rare vein compression disorder that occurs when arteries squeeze the left kidney vein.

Relieved that they could attach a name to Makenzie’s problem, she and her mom, Holly, started trying to find a vascular surgeon who could help her.

By coincidence, they met a mother in a waiting room whose daughter was also struggling with nutcracker syndrome. She offered to add Holly to a Facebook group of others with renal compression problems, and Holly gratefully accepted. Soon, she learned from others about the Renal Autotransplant Program at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin. During a renal autotransplant, a doctor removes the patient’s kidney and ureter and place them in a different part of their abdomen.

Makenzie was fortunate enough to connect with Marcie, a nurse in the RAP program. Marcie screened Makenzie over the phone, showed her imaging results to surgeon David Foley, MD, and set up an appointment for Makenzie to visit Madison for further testing. “Marcie was a godsend,” said Makenzie. “She was an angel.”

Makenzie, Holly, and Makenzie’s dad Glen flew to Madison at the end of February 2024, and sure enough, Makenzie was a candidate for the renal autotransplant. She underwent her surgery on March 14.

“I won’t say the recovery has been easy, but I will say it was worth it,” said Makenzie.

Makenzie has recovered and the pain in her flank area is gone. She’s graduating from high school this spring and looking forward to attending Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. “A lot of the stuff that has happened to me has played a huge role in what I want to do,” she said. “I want to make a difference in someone’s life, so I’m studying to be a child life specialist to help bring a bit of normalcy to children who are in the hospital.”

Holly says she plans on remaining an active member of the Facebook group that led her to UW Health. “We’re going to keep pointing people toward UW Health, because of how incredible they are and how much they helped us,” she said.