For nearly two years, Dr. Hetty Chung of Manhasset waited for a kidney transplant.
She and her daughter, Isabella, would often spend nights praying together. And every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, Chung would need to go on dialysis for four hours.
“She’d always be like ‘what day is it, mommy?’ Chung said of her 4-year-old daughter.
But on March 8, Chung said, she received the “gift of life.”
Mt. Sinai Hospital managed to find a cadaveric kidney match.
“They [the doctors] told me to find a match would be one in a million,” Chung said. “It was mission impossible to find that match.”
Over 150 people were tested as potential donors, but no living donor would be the right match. A high antibody count made finding the right person very difficult. Chung said that she truly believed the result was a “God-driven” one.
“It’s been a miraculous recovery for me too in so many ways,” Chung said.
Chung grew up in Great Neck, having first moved there when she was 10 years old. She attended Lakeville Elementary School, Great Neck South Middle School and graduated from South High School in 1990. But it was only eight years after that she had her first experience with kidney failure.
Chung was 26 and in medical school at the SUNY Health Science Center at Brooklyn. She completed part of her obstetrics-gynecology residency at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset while on a dialysis machine. Her sister, Helen Jhong, donated a kidney to her. After that, she completed her residency at 2003.
These experiences helped transform her from organ recipient to organ donor advocate. While Chung said she is normally quiet about her personal health, she has spoken to various organizations about her own experience and emphasized the need for donors.
She also runs a Facebook page called “Hope for a Donor,” which publishes stories, information and fundraising events regarding kidney donations.
According to the U.S. Division of Transplantation, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, over 119,000 people are on the national transplant waiting list. Twenty-two die each day waiting for a transplant.
“There are so many people in need and so few living donors. If more people find out about it … You could save so many lives,” Chung said. “Just one person can save eight people’s lives.”
“It doesn’t really come into people’s radars until someone they know suffers with this,” Chung added.
Chung now plans on returning to a limited work schedule at her private OB-GYN practice in New Hyde Park, where she has worked for 14 years, in just over a week — or about a month after her surgery took place.
“They told me I should take six to eight weeks,” Chung said, “but I feel good.”
For her, she said it will be a balancing act. Chung said she will have to be careful taking care of her kidney, her work and her family.
But while Chung noted she will be on medications for the rest of her life, being off a dialysis machine and being able to eat what she wants has been liberating.
“I’m just excited about this new phase of life. Not everybody gets this blessing,” she said.
And her daughter has certainly noticed the changes.
“Now she knows I’m much more available to her. I think she gets it. She’s very happy,” Chung said. “Now her new thing is ‘mommy, you’re going back to work?’” Chung added with a laugh.