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Nurse’s Selfless Gift Exemplifies Spirit of National Nurses Week

Nicole Fritz (Nurse at UChicago Medicine AdventHealth La Grange) and her Mom

Nicole Fritz, a nurse in the 5 West medical-surgical unit at UChicago Medicine AdventHealth La Grange, donated her left kidney to her mother, Lori Fritz, who had entered the final stage of renal failure.

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Nurse’s Selfless Gift Exemplifies Spirit of National Nurses Week

National Nurses Week (May 6 through 12) this year features the theme “Nurses Make the Difference,” and one UChicago Medicine AdventHealth nurse recently exemplified this spirit in a powerful and personal way.

Nicole Fritz, a nurse in the 5 West medical-surgical unit at UChicago Medicine AdventHealth La Grange, donated her left kidney to her mother, Lori Fritz, who had entered the final stage of renal failure. Both have recovered well in the months since their surgeries on Dec. 12, 2023.

Nicole’s nursing knowledge and deep love for her mother made donating her kidney an easy decision. She had seen patients on dialysis and knew that although it can be lifesaving, it also can be difficult and time-consuming. When Lori’s nephrologist told her she would have to begin dialysis or get a kidney transplant, Nicole immediately knew what she wanted to do.

Her mother, 65, “was too young to go through all that with dialysis,” said Nicole, 41, a running enthusiast who has competed in numerous marathons. “If I was a match, I knew I could prevent that.”

Nicole’s Decision

Riding home with her mother after the appointment at which her nephrologist explained her options, Nicole said, “Mom, I’m not letting you do dialysis. I’m going to fill out the online living donor form. There really is no decision to be made.”

She submitted the form that night, her only concern being that she might not be a match. “Even if I wasn’t, I planned to apply for a swap program where I would donate a kidney to someone I matched with, and someone else who matched with my mom would give a kidney to her,” Nicole said.

The next day, she contacted friends who had donated kidneys to learn more about the process. They told her everything had gone smoothly for them. “I was going to do it, regardless,” Nicole said. “She’s my mom, and I think most people would do anything for their mom. She has always been there for me; this was my chance to be there for her.”

A marathon day of appointments and testing at the University of Chicago Medical Center in Hyde Park later revealed that Nicole was an ideal match for Lori, whose kidney function had been deteriorating for ten years because of an autoimmune disorder known as microscopic polyangiitis, or MPA, which causes inflammation of blood vessels and can damage the kidneys and lungs.

When she learned she was a match, Nicole felt a wave of relief and joy. She rushed to her parents’ home to share the news, carrying a cake decorated with the message, “Hey, Mom! We’re a Match!”

Bolstered by Faith

The day of the transplant procedures at the University of Chicago Medical Center was an emotional one for Nicole and her parents. “The hardest part for my mom was when they wheeled me away into the operating room,” Nicole shared. “I just said, `Mom, I’m fine. These are great doctors, and I’m in good hands. I love you, and we’re almost on the other side of this.’’’ Nicole’s father, Bob Fritz, “was the most nervous about everything,” Nicole said. “He was going to be awake and waiting while his two girls were having surgery.”

Nicole was in the hospital for a day after her surgery, and Lori stayed for five days while her medical team monitored her body’s reaction to her new kidney. “I felt nauseous for that first 24 hours, and my mom was upset that I felt so sick because I had done the procedure for her,” Nicole said. “But we’ve both been A-OK ever since. If not for our surgical scars, it’s almost like we never went through it.”

The success of their surgeries has not surprised Nicole. She had the utmost confidence in their transplant surgeons, who are leaders in their field. “I knew that God would take care of us,” she said. When she prays to God, she added, she also talks to her late grandfather, who died about five years ago. She was very close with him, and since his death, she has come to believe that quarters she randomly finds during challenging times are signs from him that everything will be OK.

“I now have a whole cup full of those quarters,” Nicole said. She found one in a hallway while getting tested at the University of Chicago Medical Center. “It was a long day and a lot to process, and right in the middle of the floor was a quarter,” she said. “I believe that was my grandfather telling me everything would be OK and he would take care of my mom and me. Knowing he was going to take care of us was knowing God would take care of us.”

Nicole Fritz and Her Mom After Surgery

Growing as a Nurse

“Making a difference for her mother has helped me grow as a nurse,” shared Nicole. Before donating her kidney, she had never been a patient in a hospital, and the experience has deepened her empathy for patients. “I can relate to patients when feeling stuck in one room,” said Nicole. “I know how they feel not being able to get up just to go to the bathroom.”

Nicole also has gained a deeper appreciation for her colleagues. “They were so supportive,” she said. Before her surgery, they threw a good-luck party for her and gave her what she described as “an amazing care package,” including books, puzzles and self-care items. They also gave her a customized blanket featuring some Fritz family photos that comforted her during her hospital stay and recovery. When she returned to work in early March, “I got hugs from everybody,” she said. “Everybody thinks what I did was pretty cool.”

Since donating her kidney to her mother, Nicole has not regretted her decision for a moment. “I wouldn’t change anything, especially with how well my mom is doing now,” she said. “Before the transplant, she was always coughing and was on and off oxygen because of MPA’s effect on her lungs. Her anti-rejection medications have stopped her coughing. Her body isn’t inflamed anymore, and everything is stable. She looks so healthy and now has energy all day long instead of tiring easily. The impact of one new kidney is amazing, and I don’t even miss it.”

Returning to Running

Now that Lori’s health has improved, planning long-delayed vacations has become possible for her and Bob. The Fritz family is also considering getting a pontoon boat as a reward for sticking together and supporting each other through Lori’s health challenges.

Nicole resumed running in February, and by late April, she had reached a half-marathon distance of 13 miles as she trains to compete for the 15th time in the Chicago Marathon this fall. Supporting a cause near and dear to her, she will run for the first time to raise funds for the National Kidney Foundation.

Always close, Nicole and Lori talk multiple times daily, reflecting the gratitude and happiness that fill their hearts. “I joke that she gave me a kidney 41 years ago, and I was only giving it back,” said Nicole, who hopes to persuade her mother to join her for a 5K walk sometime soon.

This Mother’s Day, which falls on the last day of National Nurses Week, will hold special meaning for both women. “I kid with my mom that I’m all paid up for all the Mother’s Days, every Christmas and other holidays,” Nicole said. Her nursing duties require her to work on Mother’s Day, “but we’ll celebrate,” she said. “We’ll do something special.”

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