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Thrive On

Kelly Ann’s Great Big Family—a Story of Love and Support

Kelly Ann Manuel and family
Kelly Ann Manuel is completely surrounded (and supported) by family. And we’re not just talking about the people in her household. For this wife and mom from Massachusetts, loved ones can be found in just about any setting—within her enormous, close-knit Italian family, her community, her son’s school system, and the members of her dialysis center care team.

“My support system is just incredible,” she says. “So many people have helped us over the years. I get emotional just talking about it.”

Facing Hard Times with Hope and a Smile

At 48, Kelly Ann has had major medical problems nearly half of her life. It started with kidney stones, which required multiple surgeries into her late 20s. In her mid-30s, she learned she was diabetic. And in her mid-40s she was diagnosed with leukemia. While being treated for cancer in Boston, Kelly Ann’s kidneys failed, and she began dialysis while hospitalized. Medical care for the diseases required a month-long hospital stay, and for another 8 months she went back and forth to the city for chemotherapy and hemodialysis (HD) treatments.

While she battled 2 chronic diseases, Kelly Ann did her best to keep positive for her son Connor and husband John. She kept her longtime friend Lindsay, another mom who went through cancer, in her thoughts. “She always had a smile on her face, even when things were really bad,” recalls Kelly Ann. “She used to say, ‘I have a son I have to be strong for.’ So, when I had those really bad days, I would think, ‘I have to be Lindsay.’”

Care Team Encouragement and Education

The leukemia is now in remission and Kelly Ann has transitioned from in-center HD to home hemodialysis (HHD), giving her more flexibility and freedom. Though at first nervous to dialyze at home, she says her care team at Fresenius Kidney Care Essex County in Saugus, Massachusetts, gave her the encouragement and guidance she needed. She started in a Transitional Care Unit, a small area of the center where people on dialysis can learn about home therapies. After a week, Kelly Ann was confident HHD was a good option for her, and she began training.

“My home dialysis training nurse, Gia, is amazing,” Kelly Ann says with enthusiasm. “She’s more like a friend than a nurse. She came to our house to make sure we could all understand the machine and that my husband could help hook me up. After that, she just became part of my family. I know I can text her anytime and she’ll always help me.”

Love and Support from All Directions

With encouragement from Gia, Kelly Ann is in the process of getting on the kidney transplant waiting list, and Gia has promised to be by Kelly Ann’s side if a donation comes through. In addition to getting on the national list, Kelly Ann has had countless people volunteer to be living donors once she is cleared by her oncologist to receive a transplant.

“I’m very close with my cousins, and when I told them about my kidneys, every single one of them asked me, ‘When can I get tested?’” says Kelly Ann, holding back tears. “My brother said to me, ‘I’ll be the first in line.’ It just warms my heart so much.”

Besides family members, others offering to be tested include friends, acquaintances, and moms of Connor’s school friends. The outpouring of support comes in other ways as well. Several friends and family members have made themselves available to assist her with treatments when John can’t be home. They have also prepared meals, cleaned the house, grocery shopped, and more.

“They have really been there for me,” she says. “There were times when dinner was on my doorstep every night when I came home. I couldn’t believe it.”

Feeling Uplifted, Lifting Others Up

These days, Kelly Ann doesn’t need as much help as she once did, and says it’s because she feels so much better on HHD. Besides talking about her loving friends and family, she truly enjoys sharing the benefits of home dialysis—including increased energy, more flexible scheduling, and fewer food restrictions. Through her story, she has inspired others at her dialysis center to try HHD themselves.

Beyond therapy and care, Kelly Ann says what people on dialysis need most is a good support system, whether through the people in their household, their neighborhood, their center, or—ideally—all 3.

“It’s very important,” says Kelly Ann. “You’re going to have days when you don’t feel like doing your treatments, and these are the people cheering you on. Or they may just be there to sit with you and tell you about their day. When you have those down days—and you’re going to have them—it’s vital to have those people to get you through.”

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