Amber Kudrna has always wanted to be a mom.
When her younger brother was born, she treated him like her own baby doll. She helped feed him, changed his diapers and read to him.
But as an adult, Kudrna wasn’t sure she’d be able to have a child of her own. After two kidney transplants, doctors said the Omaha woman could face a laundry list of pregnancy complications.
Low growth rates, a side effect of medication; high blood pressure; gestational diabetes; and premature labor.
The worst-case scenario would send the 32-year-old back on dialysis and back on the transplant list.
“That’s something that’s always been in the back of my mind,” Kudrna said. “Knowing that it may never happen for me. It was nerve-racking.”
Kudrna and her husband weighed the options and, in September, welcomed a baby boy. Mom — and her kidney — and baby are doing well.
Kudrna was 7 when she learned that she would eventually need a kidney transplant. Doctors discovered that one of her kidneys never developed and the other was scarred from urinary tract infections. Kudrna had no symptoms, so the infections went untreated.
Doctors expected her to need a transplant by the time she was a teenager.
In the meantime, the family relocated to Nebraska for Kudrna’s medical care. They had been in England, where Kudrna’s father was stationed in the military.
She lived out the next eight years like a normal kid. She joined show choir, performed in theater productions and had a part-time job.
She went to the doctor regularly for tests and blood work. At one visit, doctors said her kidney was functioning at 25 percent. She needed a transplant.
Kudrna’s mother, Alisha Horton, got tested and was a match.
“As a mother, the first thing you think of is to take care of your children. You would do whatever it took,” Alisha Horton said. “You do whatever it takes for your kids to have a healthy life.”
The transplant went well for mom and daughter. Kudrna thought she was set with the new organ. But about eight years later, Kudrna, then 23, went into the emergency room not feeling well and with stomach pain. Her kidney had started to fail. Doctors said she needed dialysis.
Her life was put on hold. She couldn’t go back to school. She couldn’t take road trips with her friends.
“You just kind of become numb and almost robotic-like. You go through the motions because if you concentrate on it too much, you become depressed,” Kudrna said.
She went to dialysis three times a week. Each session lasted about four hours. After the treatment, Kudrna was exhausted. She tried to sleep during the treatment and then slept most of the day once she got home.
One day, as she was falling asleep during dialysis, a transplant coordinator called to tell Kudrna that they had a potential kidney for her. She went home, packed a bag and returned to the Nebraska Medical Center for testing. She was the best match for the organ. And by about 8 that evening, surgery was finished.
Kudrna had lab work done every three months to make sure her kidney was functioning well. She married Adam Kudrna in October 2017, and the couple talked about starting a family.
They spent a day meeting with doctors and testing Kudrna’s kidney levels. Doctors warned of the risks, said Dr. Carl Smith, an OB-GYN for high-risk pregnancies.
The biggest risk was losing kidney function. That would put Kudrna back on dialysis and back on the transplant list.
Hearing the worst-case scenario was scary, but doctors told Kudrna they thought she’d be able to successfully carry a child.
During her pregnancy, Kudrna was anxious before each appointment, expecting to hear that something had gone wrong. But things went well, and on Sept. 21, she and her husband welcomed 5-pound, 4-ounce Lane.
Horton knew her daughter would make a great mother, but she was scared for her health. At first, she tried to persuade Kudrna to explore other options like adoption or surrogacy. Then she worried during the nine months.
“This is where I tear up a little bit,” Horton said. “I’m glad I was wrong. There’s overwhelming joy watching her be a mother. This is what she really wanted.”
Lane passed his tests at the hospital “with flying colors.” He spends most of his time eating and sleeping, but he’s an expressive baby. He scowls and smiles and his cry seems like that of a tiny dinosaur.
When Kudrna held Lane for the first time, she said she couldn’t help but think of her second kidney donor.
“It’s a true circle of life. My baby is here because of that person who donated their organ to me,” she said.