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‘I didn’t want her to go through it’: South Hill sisters draw closer in battle with kidney disease

South Hill sisters 18-year-old Allison, left, and Katherine Blankenship, 16, share the same kidney disease. Both girls are in need of kidney transplants.
South Hill sisters 18-year-old Allison, left, and Katherine Blankenship, 16, share the same kidney disease. Both girls are in need of kidney transplants. toverman@theolympian.com

South Hill sisters Allison and Katherine (Katie) Blankenship have always considered themselves close.

When they found out they shared the same kidney disease, it only brought them closer.

“It’s pretty hard for me and I didn’t want her to go through it,” said 18-year-old Allison.

It’s pretty hard for me and I didn’t want her to go through it.

Allison Blankenship

Allison was diagnosed with kidney disease when she was in first grade. Too much creatine, a waste chemical, was found in her kidneys. At age 8, she was taking 42 pills a day.

In 2007, she received her first kidney transplant from her mother, Jennifer. But it wouldn’t last — her body would try to reject it.

“I’ve been in rejection before,” Allison said.

To prevent rejection, Allison continues to take daily medications. This fall, she’ll attend Central Washington University to study musical education. But in a few years, she’ll need another kidney transplant.

In 2016, another unfortunate surprise — Katie, who attends Emerald Ridge High School, was also diagnosed with kidney disease.

“I was having really back stomach aches,” Katie said.

“The day she was diagnosed, she asked two things: Can I still go to college and can I still do Girl Scouts?” Jennifer remembered.

Jennifer said there’s been no other kidney problems in the family, including her eldest daughter, who’s 20 years old, and that out of all kidney disease patients, as low as 2 to 4 percent of them are children.

To have two in the same family is unheard of ... It’s heartbreaking and it’s hard to see them go through this.

Jennifer Blankenship

“To have two in the same family is unheard of,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking and it’s hard to see them go through this.”

But Katie has her sister to talk to about their condition. Many times, when their doctor asks a question, she’ll know the answer.

“She’ll say, ‘I’ve already asked Allison,’” Jennifer said.

But unlike Allison’s first transplant, there is no immediate donor available for Katie. Her kidney is currently functioning at 8 percent, at end stage renal failure.

“That’s when it’s dire,” Katie said.

It’s already impacting Katie’s daily life. She can’t walk very far without getting tired, and even though her house is within walking distance of her school, she has to take the bus. She also has to cut down on the volunteer groups she loves so much.

“I can’t really do that much anymore,” Katie said.

This fall, Katie will be starting at-home dialysis treatment until a transplant kidney is available. She’s been put on the active waiting list at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Since I’m 16, it’s really hard to get a kidney for my age.

Katie Blankenship

“Since I’m 16, it’s really hard to get a kidney for my age,” Katie said.

And while Katie’s had more than one friend volunteer to help, she said they don’t fully understand the risks of the surgery.

Jennifer, a teacher at Frederickson Elementary School, said that even one of her coworkers offered to help her daughter. The support of the community has been overwhelming.

“It’s really hard to accept all this help,” she said.

But the help won’t stop coming. On Saturday, the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA), a national charity dedicated to raising funds for transplant-related expenses, hosted a Benefit Poker Run to raise money for the Blankenships, whose estimated transplant cost exceeds $500,000 each. The fundraiser raised $11,750, while the family was also presented with a $5,000 from Veterans United Foundation.

It was just the first in a series of fundraisers planned for the next few months. For more information, visit COTAforBlankenships.com.

$500,000 per transplant for Allison and Katie

Shari Looney, COTA public relations coordinator, lives in South Hill and knows the Blankenships well. Katie even used to babysit for her.

“The big picture is educating the masses about organ donation and its importance, but the Children’s Organ Transplant Association and what they provide to those who need them, simply put, it is vital hope,” Looney said. “Giving families such as the Blankenships a sense of hope after not one — but two — devastating kidney disease diagnosis.”

The next fundraiser for the Blankenships is a Benefit Pancake Breakfast from 8 to 10 a.m. Sept. 30 at 16518 Meridian E. on South Hill. A Bingo and Silent Auction is also scheduled for Nov. 4 at the Fruitland Grange, 112th St. and 86th Ave. on South Hill. Details are still pending.

Jennifer hopes their stories will help spread awareness about the importance of donating organs.

“We’ve learned that being a donor can help so many people,” Jennifer said. “One donor can save eight lives.”

Allison Needles: 253-597-8507, @herald_allison

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