Local Woman Seeks Life-Changing Donation

February 12, 2024
• A long-time Needham-based employee hopes to receive a kidney donation.

Athina Athanasiadis has been through this before.

At the height of the pandemic, her mother Kathy needed a kidney transplant. Athanasiadis spent months driving her to and from medical appointments, including to their shared primary care physician, who reminded Athanasiadis she hadn’t scheduled her own physicals for a couple years.

But when Athanasiadis returned for routine blood work, something was wrong. After further testing, her results hadn’t improved.

Now, with her mom in remission with a new kidney, Athanasiadis needs one, too.

The Chestnut Dental hygienist, who lives in Roslindale, is in end-stage renal failure. She’s waiting for a call that would change her life.

Athina Athanasiadis, of Roslindale, smiles in front of the Parthenon during a trip to Athens, Greece in September 2021. (Courtesy Athina Athanasiadis)

“Receiving a donor would basically allow me to go back to living a normal life,” Athanasiadis said. “I’ll be able to travel again. I’ll be able to just do all the normal things that a 34-year-old can do in their life.”

For her blood type — A+ — Athanasiadis said Massachusetts General Hospital estimates the wait for a deceased donor is between five and seven years. She began dialysis about 18 months ago and now conducts the treatments herself at home four times a week. One dialysis session can last three to five-and-a-half hours, she said.

Athanasiadis recently took to social media, extending her search to the Needham community, which she considers “a second home.” Until December, she continued to work full-time at Chestnut Dental — where she’s worked for about 12 years — but has since taken medical leave.

Searching for a donor has been difficult, as her immediate family isn’t eligible — her sister has pre-existing conditions that preclude her from donating, and her father was rejected as a match.

“I’ve had I’m pretty sure over 25 people rejected,” Athanasiadis said, “and Mass General has told me they’ve never seen anything like that happen.”

Mass General requires donors be between 25-75 years old with a body mass index of 35 or less and no history of certain medical issues, including active cancer, uncontrolled diabetes and heart, lung and liver disease.

For an exact match, donors must also have A+ or O blood, but should they not, Athanasiadis could still receive a kidney. The National Kidney Registry’s exchange program would allow Athanasiadis to still receive a kidney from an unknown living donor while the known donor’s kidney would go to another person in need.

Prior to her diagnosis at 28, Athanasiadis said she showed no unusual symptoms and reported no pain. Genetic testing indicated that she has also mitochondrial dysfunction, when the mitochondria in the body’s cells aren’t producing enough energy. When her kidney levels had momentarily stabled, she started losing her hearing, which is considered a symptom of mitochondrial dysfunction. Such a diagnosis can negatively impact kidney function.

Athina Athanasiadis receives dialysis treatment at Fresenius Kidney Care in Boston in December 2022. (Courtesy Athina Athanasiadis)

“Being in your 20s, you don’t consider thinking about things like that,” she said, “especially when I’m working and then I’m going to the gym, I have an active social life. Nothing really fazed me, and then all of a sudden you’re like, ‘Oh, you have a chronic illness.’”

The kidneys work to filter blood and rid the body of waste, but with kidney disease, that function worsens. Kidney failure results when that function reduces to less than 15%, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. When those fluids build up, it could result in anemia, increased levels of acid in the blood and hyperkalemia, or high levels of potassium in the blood, for which Athanasiadis has previously been hospitalized.

In many cases of kidney failure, dialysis is not a long-term solution, as patients will need a transplant, according to the National Health Service.

Athanasiadis has spent nearly her entire career in Needham, and she said she’s grateful for the support and stability the town provides.

“I love the office. I love the community. I love my patients,” she said.

Christine Thompson, human resources manager at Chestnut Dental, wrote in an email that the office has worked to accommodate Athanasiadis over the past couple years. In March, for National Kidney Month, they plan to organize a team for a fundraising effort for the National Kidney Foundation in Athanasiadis’ name.

“We admire Athina’s strength, resilience, and perseverance throughout her very difficult journey to find a kidney donor. She is family, and we continue to send her our love and support during this time,” Thompson wrote. “We cannot wait for her return to the office.”

As she continues her search for a kidney transplant, Athanasiadis encourages people to help however they are able, whether it be through word of mouth or applying to become a donor.

“It’s extremely appreciated and noted,” she said.

Athanasiadis is listed at MGH and the University of Vermont Medical Center.

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