PHOENIX (May 6, 2022) – A young, Arizona kidney transplant recipient will celebrate her first Mother’s Day this weekend at home with a thriving baby girl after spending more than a month with her in the Nursery Intensive Care Unit (NyICU) at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix – the same hospital where the new mother received a lifesaving kidney transplant just two years ago. The patient, Rachel Retegan, is the hospital’s first kidney transplant recipient to give birth post-transplant.
“The team at St. Joseph’s – from the transplant professionals to the NyICU specialists – is absolutely incredible,” says Retegan, a professional caregiver by trade.
Retegan, 34, was diagnosed at age 21 with kidney disease related to hypertension after a routine physical returned abnormal lab results. Over the next four years, her condition progressively worsened to stage four kidney failure and doctors told her she needed to consider a kidney transplant. Hypertension is a leading cause of kidney disease and kidney failure.
In 2013, shortly after starting dialysis treatments instead of beginning the transplant candidacy process, she met her soulmate, Zach Theis, at a grocery store in Sedona. The dialysis, coupled with a healthy diet and lifestyle, would maintain her condition for the next seven years. Retegan’s decision to undergo the transplant was simple – she knew she needed a new kidney in order to one day bear a child.
“To be honest, I just wasn’t ready to get a transplant when I was in my early twenties. But at 32, Zach and I had been together for nearly eight years and we were ready to start our family. So, the reward far outweighed the risks,” says Retegan. “My body wasn’t healthy enough to carry a baby without the transplant and I had to wait at least a year post-transplant before we could even think about trying to have a baby.”
With seven years of dialysis on her side, Retegan, who resides in Cornville, was listed for about a month before she received the gift of life at St. Joseph’s in August 2019. Then, two years later, she and Zach learned in August 2021 that they were expecting a little one whose estimated due date was Mother’s Day 2022.
“Rachel is our program’s first kidney transplant recipient to give birth post-transplant,” says Angela Smith, abdominal transplant program manager at St. Joseph’s, which is home to a multi-organ transplant center for kidney, liver and lung patients. “Her family support has been outstanding and we are thrilled that she gets to experience being a mother thanks to the generosity of organ donation.”
On March 16, six weeks prematurely, baby Ava was born weighing in at 3 lbs. 8 oz. just a few floors away from where Rachel received her kidney transplant a couple of years prior. Retegan spent every day with Ava in the hospital’s NyICU as she continued to grow.
“Ava is our miracle and we’re so happy to finally have her home! It will be special to celebrate her ‘due date’ this weekend, which is also my first Mother’s Day with her,” says Retegan. “And of course, none of this would have been possible without St. Joseph’s and the selflessness of my organ donor’s family to whom my family and I are forever grateful.”
To learn more about registering as an organ donor, visit Donate Life Arizona online at dnaz.org [dnaz.org].