Renal autotransplant

No longer in pain, surgery changes Taylor's life

Blond woman smiling outdoors in a dark floral dress.

Until the summer of 2023, Taylor Nelson couldn’t imagine living her life without back pain. She had experienced it for as long as she could remember, but it was in high school that the pain really started to take center stage in her life.

At that time, she never dreamed there was something very wrong with her body—she just assumed the pain occurred because she was so active in gymnastics, soccer and track.

Taylor was first diagnosed with the rare vein compression disorder nutcracker syndrome in 2018, when she was a student at Mankato State University in Mankato, Minnesota. She had visited the emergency room because of extreme back pain, and the doctor found three kidney stones on her right kidney. During the examination, the doctor discovered Taylor’s arteries were squeezing her left kidney vein, causing nutcracker syndrome.

The problem was that that doctor—and many others—had no idea how to treat nutcracker syndrome. “Doctors told me that some people don’t even recognize it as a disease,” Taylor said. “I realized I had to advocate for myself. All these doctors were getting just snippets of my story, and not the whole picture.”

In the meantime, the pain was taking over Taylor’s life. She had to drop out of nursing college because it was too difficult for her to stand up during clinical rotations. “I would come home and have to stay in bed because I was so exhausted,” she said.

Finally, Taylor was referred to the UW Health Renal Autotransplant Program in Madison, Wisconsin. Her first appointment there was eye-opening. “For the first time, I had doctors who were advocating for me,” she said. “It was a totally different experience.”

Taylor underwent tests at another facility and at UW Health that confirmed she had severe nutcracker syndrome as well as May-Thurner syndrome, another compression disorder. The difference between UW Health and the other facilities was that the team in Madison has a dedicated program and strategy to make Taylor’s pain disappear—a renal autotransplant. During the procedure, the doctor would remove Taylor’s kidney and ureter and place them in a different part of her abdomen.

Taylor was a candidate for the surgery, but first she needed to gain some weight so she could be as healthy as possible. Her surgery was on July 25, 2023.

Even though it’s only been a short time since Taylor’s surgery, she can already tell the difference in her body. While she’s still recovering from surgical pain, she no longer suffers from back pain. “I’ve never not woken up with back pain,” she said. “It’s life changing.”

Taylor, who is now 25, is hoping she will be able to return to college and the life she was planning before her pain became debilitating. “For now, I’m taking it day by day and spending time with my dogs,” she said.