SCITUATE — For Carol Mitola, this past December was full of its usual activity. As Christmas approached, she could be found doing “all the mother things” that need doing around the holiday season, like cooking, shopping for her two college-aged daughters and preparing to host celebrations at her Scituate home.
Despite her active schedule and outwardly energetic appearance, however, Mitola’s health is always on her mind. The retired teacher and parishioner at Holy Apostles Church, Cranston, is living with chronic kidney disease, a condition that has forced her to make important decisions for herself and her family since she first learned of it three years ago.
The news came in 2014 when a routine doctor’s visit and blood work revealed her kidneys were at 12 percent of normal kidney function. It was a surprise to Mitola, who said she never drank, never smoked and had no history of kidney disease in her family.
“I was really shocked because I feel good. I didn’t have any symptoms,” she told Rhode Island Catholic during an interview at her home in December.
Mitola discussed her options with her doctor. As her kidney function continued to decline, she learned she would eventually need to go on dialysis or receive a kidney transplant, prompting her to place her name on the United Network for Organ Sharing’s national transplant list. The group manages organ donations from deceased donors, but with close to 100,000 individuals waiting to receive a kidney, she was told that unless she could find a living donor willing to donate to her directly, it would be at least five to six years before her transplant. By that time, she would likely have been on dialysis for several years, a treatment that can decrease life expectancy and overall health over time.
She was relieved when early screenings showed a friend would be a good match for kidney donation. However, when doctors determined it was time to move forward with the transplant last June, further tests showed her friend would not be able to donate after all. With her kidney function declined to seven or eight percent, she knew she needed to find a living donor soon if she wanted to receive a transplant before going on dialysis.
With no eligible matches among her close friends and family, Mitola, a private person by nature, faced the difficult decision of how far she wanted to reach out to find someone willing to save her life.
“I have a wonderful husband, I have a sister, I have two children. I want to live,” she said simply.
Determined to beat the disease, Mitola went public with her story in the hopes that someone — an extended relative, friend or complete stranger — would be moved to donate and prove a good match. Her story spread quickly among the Cranston school community and through the efforts of friends and family on social media and flyers. Her home parish of Holy Apostles, along with St. Kevin Church, Warwick, placed weekly bulletin announcements, and an article published in the Cranston Herald in November spread the news to many people she had never met.
“I’m not one to put myself in the limelight, I don’t like that, but I said, you know what, I have to do it,” she said. “If nothing else, I got to talk to a lot of people in my community that were so kind.”
In late November, she began receiving calls from people throughout the region who wanted to volunteer as possible kidney donors or simply offer support and share their own stories of the disease. Most of them were complete strangers who had read her story and wanted to help. The goodness of her community, she said, has been one of the surprise blessings of dealing with chronic kidney disease.
“They’ve given me the positive power and the determination to keep going. I can’t wait to have this done with and thank them all,” she said.
A few of those individuals are now undergoing testing to determine if they are eligible to donate, but Mitola has not given up her search yet. While the transplant procedure has a high rate of success, those considering it must undergo an extensive screening process to ensure donor and recipient are a suitable match. In addition to having the right blood type — in her case, A positive or O blood type — donors must be in good physical and mental health with no significant health problems. She doesn’t know yet whether her potential donors will prove suitable, and Mitola hopes that by continuing to spread the word until she finds a sure match, she can raise awareness not only for herself, but also for others who may be in need of a donation.
“I said, if it’s not a match for me, maybe approach them and ask them if they can help someone else,” she said.
In the meantime, she draws strength from her family, including her husband George and daughters Kara, who graduated from St. Mary Academy Bay-View, and Marissa, a La Salle grad, as she waits for the news that she has found a match. Her faith, she said, has kept her positive through the struggle, and she looks forward to the day when she can enjoy life without the constant worry of kidney disease.
“I’m going to enjoy every single moment with every single person in my life,” she said. “Just to be here. That’s all I ask God.”
To learn more about kidney donation, please contact Sara Gibb, living transplant coordinator at Rhode Island Hospital, at 401-444-3091. Anyone interested in learning more about Mitola’s story may also contact her directly at 401-569-1611.