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Janesville woman gets kidney from fiance after 2-year search

Posted at 7:26 AM, May 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-27 08:26:06-04

JANESVILLE, Wis. (AP) -- Mommy and daddy have matching "owies" on their tummies.

It isn't easy to explain a kidney transplant to a 2-year-old, so Ashley Friis chose terminology her toddler, Aidynn, could comprehend.

Those "owies" will keep Mommy alive.

Friis and her fiance, Josh Groetken, got "owies" after Groetken donated his kidney to Friis last month.

The transplant ended Friis' nearly two-year search for a kidney, the Janesville Gazette reported.

The Gazette talked to Friis in March while she was searching for a donor for her second kidney transplant.

Shortly after the story was published, Friis and Groetken learned Groetken was a match and an "ideal donor" for Friis.

It turns out, the kidney Friis was so desperately seeking was under her roof the whole time.

Friis and Groetken earlier had toyed with the idea of getting Groetken tested to be a donor but waited because they were concerned about leaving their daughters with limited access to Mommy and Daddy if both had surgery.

They also feared 2-year-old Aidynn, Friis' biological daughter, might one day be diagnosed with the same rare disease that caused Friis' kidneys to fail. They wanted Groetken to be a donor for Aidynn, if necessary.

Friis has atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome, a rare disease that causes red blood cells to break down and kidneys to fail.

She was diagnosed with the disease in 2009, when it caused both her kidneys to fail. Two years after the diagnosis, Friis received a kidney from her mother, she said.

Doctors didn't know in 2009 the disease could come back, but seven years later, when Friis was considering getting pregnant, doctors knew more.

"They expected nothing but the best for this (pregnancy). But someone along the line should have said, `Hey, you know, your (a)HUS can come back with stressors like pregnancy,"' Friis said.

The couple finally gave in and got Groetken tested, hoping that if Aidynn is ever diagnosed with aHUS -- a disease believed to have a hereditary link -- medical advances will prevent her from needing a kidney donation, Friis said.

Once they learned Groetken was a match, there was no question whether to go through with the transplant. It became a matter of "how," not "if."

"Now we are kicking ourselves for waiting so long," Friis said.

Friis and Groetken make jokes that a piece of Groetken is always with her, Friis said.

Her recovery took longer than his. He was in the hospital for about a day and returned to work after about a week. She was in the hospital for three days and did not return to work for about a month.

Before the transplant, Friis spent about nine hours a week in dialysis and had bi-weekly blood infusions in Madison.

Spending so much time away from her family made Friis feel isolated, and she felt she was missing out on valuable family time.

For Groetken, it was difficult to not have Friis home with him at night with the kids. He has missed having alone time with his fiancee over the last two years.

"I don't know if it (the surgery) brought us closer because we were already so close," Groekten said. "It gives us more freedom to enjoy our lives."

Groetken is excited to have date nights with his fiancee again and to hopefully travel with his family.

Dialysis weighed on Friis for two years, she said. It affected most parts of her life, including what she ate.

One of the most exciting changes since the surgery is that she can eat potatoes again.

It sounds simple, but small lifestyle changes are "big deals," Friis said.

Friis takes more medications since surgery, intended to keep her aHUS away, she said.

A month after surgery, Friis returned to work as a paraprofessional at Adams Elementary School. She is still tired and in some pain but overall is feeling better than before surgery.

Groetken's recovery happened quickly. He was in pain and bedridden for about a week. After that week, he was back to work and feeling good, he said.

"I would highly recommend anyone who wants to donate to go ahead; it is not that bad," Groetken said. "... It is a wonderful thing. It really helps change someone's life."

Friis' parents helped the couple care for the kids when they were both on bed-rest, and everything went more smoothly than expected, Friis said.

She is thankful to close the chapter of her life that was full of pain and uncertainty. She is ready to move on with her family.

"I am just really grateful to have a kidney and can be a part of my life again instead of waiting on the sidelines."


Information from: The Janesville Gazette,

AP-WF-05-27-19 0506GMT