Katie Martino was raised roaming the streets of Plant City. Now she’s reaching back out to the community she loves in hopes of finding a kidney donor that could save her life.
It started off with blood in her urine. Knowing what that could indicate, but convinced she still had years before she needed to be worried, Katie Martino went to her primary care doctor to double check the unsettling symptom.
Even her doctor was skeptical they had already run out of time. However, an abdominal ultrasound proved their worst fears had come to fruition. Martino, like her mother and her grandfather, had polycystic kidney disease.
The genetic disease causes an uncontrolled growth of cysts in the kidneys. Martino said hers are currently the
size of a small football and will only continue to grow. The disease is often passed from parent to child so the diagnosis itself was not much of a surprise. The fact that Martino was not even 30 years old, however, caught everyone off guard.
“When my sisters and I were younger we always knew there was a chance one of us would have kidney problems and I think part of me kind of assumed it would be me,” Martino said. “But I didn’t know it would be this bad this young. My mom was perfectly fine until she was 60. I thought I would have years before I would have to worry.”
The diagnosis came only two months after Martino married the love of her life. They met when they were working at Lowes after graduating from Plant City High School. They were in the honeymoon phase, whispering to each other of the life they would build when their world was turned upside down. Starting a family was off the table, though Martino said they may consider adopting or fostering down the road.
Through it all, Martino said her husband has been truly wonderful, accepting the new reality and loving and supporting her through the transition. With her blood type waiting could take up to five years so doctors told Martino her best bet would be to find a living donor rather than wait for a match from a deceased organ donor.
She was put on the transplant list at Tampa General Hospital and is already in stage five kidney failure. Her doctor told her she had “too many cysts to count.” By the time she turns 32 in October, she will more than likely be on dialysis.
So Martino threw herself into the search, creating a Facebook page called “Attack of the Killer Kidneys,” participating in walks to raise awareness and strategizing a fundraising campaign to both spread the word and help her afford the procedure when her match is found.
“I love my life and I want more of it,” Katie said in her introductory video on the Facebook page.
Despite this behemoth obstacle, Martino is continuing to enjoy the life she has built for herself. She and her husband still live on her grandfather’s farm in Dover where she was raised. Surrounded by goats and chickens, she merely has to walk across the yard to visit her mother and two sisters, who also call the property home.
Literally surrounded by her loved ones, she is able to float among the houses, visiting her niece and nephew and socializing over dinner with the people she values most in the world. It’s a simple treasure, but one Martino values more than any earthly possession.
“I love it, I love spending time with them,” Martino said. “My dad passed away when I was 17. My mom isn’t even a call away, she’s a yell away. When you go through something like that, I don’t think you can take anyone you love for granted anymore. My family is my life.”
Her coworkers at Railroad & Industrial Federal Credit Union, where Martino has worked for the past decade, have been a constant support, offering girls nights and being there when she needs a helping hand.
One of her friends often jokes that of the seven billion people and 14 billion kidneys in the world Martino only needs one, making this challenge “a piece of cake.”
Donating in and of itself is not a complex process. Interested donors go to Tampa General’s website and fill out a questionnaire. From there the donor will have lab tests done to determine tissue and blood type before final tests are done to ensure complete compatibility. If it is a match, Martino will be contacted and the procedure itself is relatively minimally invasive.
Because Martino is so young, she will eventually need to have another transplant. Tampa General ranks number two in the state for total volume of transplants. Approximately 100,000 people are waiting for a kidney transplant in the United States. At Tampa General, more than 1,000 living donor kidney transplants have been performed since 1974.
Martino watched her mother go through the same process approximately one year before she herself was diagnosed. Her strength and guidance have helped abate many of her fears, though she said not knowing every detail of what’s to come is daunting.
She plans to host several more fundraisers in Plant City while continuing to do the things she loves like kayaking with her husband, binging Sherlock and Stranger Things on Netflix, reading “trashy romance novels” and traveling every free chance she gets.
“I would like to say in 20 years I’ll have had a successful kidney transplant, still be on the farm heavily involved with my family and maybe even have potentially adopted or fostered some children of our own,” Martino said. “I’m open to different possibilities, which is hard for me because I’m such a planner. I’m having to learn to trust that everything is going to be OK.”