Renal autotransplant

Renal autotransplant surgery gave Grace her life back

Grace Balasic was always a very active, energetic teenager.

As a senior in high school, the girl from Harrisonburg, Va., volunteered and babysat and was preparing to go on a mission trip to Guatemala. But all that was sidelined when she became very ill at age 17. She had always been a healthy eater, but was constantly nauseated and couldn't eat more than a few bites of food without throwing up. She saw her pediatrician many times and endured countless blood tests, emergency department visits and computed tomography (CT) scans. Eventually, her doctor declared there was nothing wrong with her, which was frustrating to her.

Finally, in November 2016, she saw a gastroenterologist who diagnosed her with superior mesenteric artery syndrome, a rare 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. Due to the severity of that compression, she couldn't process food and water and needed a feeding tube for several months. When the feeding tube came out in February 2017, her doctor assured her she would be fine - but within a week, all her symptoms had returned.

She started seeing a vascular doctor in April 2017, who diagnosed her with nutcracker syndrome, a disorder that can lead to loin pain hematuria syndrome (LPHS). LPHS causes excruciating loin pain on one or both sides of the body and blood in the urine. The doctor recommended a left renal vein transposition - a procedure that could relieve the pressure that was causing so much pain. But there was only a 50 percent chance it would work. "I was in such pain," she says, "that even though it was such a major, risky surgery, I had to try."

She underwent the surgery in June, but by September, it was clear it hadn't worked. Desperate, Grace and her parents learned about the kidney autotransplant program at University Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. They traveled to Madison in March 2018, and Grace underwent a special lidocaine test - developed at University Hospital - that showed she was a candidate for the procedure. On May 16, 2018, she went back to Madison, where transplant surgeons removed her kidney and transplanted it elsewhere in her body. After Grace's initial recovery period, she felt much better. "I have not had any of the pain that I did before the operation," she says. "It blows our minds how well this procedure worked."

Now 19, she is dating, traveling, returning to light exercise, and pursuing working full time as an independent Mary Kay Cosmetics consultant. "There are no words to adequately express my deepest, sincerest gratitude to the transplant surgeons and the autotransplant team for giving me this second chance at life," she says. "The expertise and quality of care at University Hospital is superior in every way. I wouldn't want medical care anywhere else!" For more information about her story, you can visit her personal blog.