By Daniela Torres
It is an average Wednesday as Madison Spero finishes up the exam she had been studying for the night prior. Spero leaves her class still nervous due to the job interview she has at the mall in an hour. She plans to meet her mom there, have her interview and then window shop afterwards to relieve the stress of the day. She calls her mom, but there is no answer. Tempted to skip out on her interview and make sure her mother is okay, Spero is persuaded otherwise, being reassured by her friends that they will check up on her. She finishes her interview and she returns home to find her mom disoriented in a way that the COC student is far too familiar with.
Berger’s disease is a condition that nobody would picture themselves having, but is a common kidney problem that can strike despite being in seemingly good health. Though it is not a disease that is talked about often, it can affect anyone around you as well as yourself. Also known as IgA nephropathy, this can result in end-stage kidney disease in which the kidneys alone can not keep the person healthy. While there is a need for a new kidney, that isn’t a viable option immediately.
While waiting for a transplant, there is a constant need to filter the blood by using dialysis, but it isn’t a quick fix. There are two types of dialysis procedures, hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. Spero’s mother, Felice Spero, goes through hemodialysis. During this dialysis, she is unable to move her arms. Movement can cause the needle to burst a vein or release blood.
This tedious process is done weekly by Spero’s mother, whose had no use of her kidneys as long as her daughter can remember. This procedure takes a toll on her body causing her nausea, low blood pressure and muscle cramps even when she is away from the dialysis chair. It already seems like a time-consuming and painful process but there is more than just that. “There’s in and out of the hospital, weekly doctor’s visits to different doctors for different issues,” said Spero. The process is described as “extremely sad and depressing,” said Spero’s mother. “You look around to everyone and everyone else is complaining. Getting through it is hell and really difficult. You need something to get you through the four hours.”
There are more restrictions that follow once Spero’s mother leaves the facility. They must constantly make sure that wherever they live or vacation, they are able to get to a dialysis facility. “Our schedule is very, for a lack of better words, scheduled. We definitely have doctor appointments we have to get to, we have her three to four times a week dialysis appointments,” said Madison Spero. “We can’t really be spontaneous because things have to be very planned.”
Though they keep to their strict schedule, there are times in which Spero’s mother feels so ill that she can’t even get herself up for her scheduled dialysis appointments. When that happens, the Spero’s are tempted to skip a day and try to hopefully get rescheduled the day after or try to get by with less than four hours of dialysis. The results of doing either of those can be disastrous.
There have been instances in which Spero’s mother has risked it and has made her session shorter due to her inability to get to the dialysis facility. Sometimes, nothing happens when they do this but they haven’t been fortunate every single time. Days where Spero’s mother has too much of something as inconspicuous as potassium in her system can cause her to end up in the hospital.
“Somedays I definitely do skip class because she’s not feeling well and I’m worried to leave her home alone,” Spero said. “I get scared to leave the house unless I know there’s somebody close enough that if, God forbid, something happens, they can be there.”
There have been instances when Spero has come home to find her mother disorientated, where she had to rush her to the hospital. Having too much waste in her blood can cause her to become unconscious. Having too much potassium in her blood can give her hyperkalemia, which changes her heart rhythm and can cause death.
This puts Spero in the position of balancing her school work, her social life and caring for her mother but she manages to keep everything in order. She works at a steady pace in order to keep her dream of getting her degree in biology alive.
“Thankfully, all of my professors so far have been very understanding, very nice about it,” Spero said.
Spero receives help from the Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement program (MESA) at COC as well as financial aid. MESA provides help for those who are STEM majors who have financial disadvantages. This program helps Spero stay ahead with the required 30 hours at their center as well as attending two workshops that interest her. With this, even if she is struggling to find time to work on her classwork, she has MESA to turn to in order to force herself to work. There are also dedicated tutors for her major, as well as other subjects such as chemistry, engineering, math and physics.
Spero and her mother draw inspiration from each other. Though their predicament isn’t normal, it is how their lives run. There was a time when it was different. “I was a fully contributing member of society, I went out with friends, I was able to go on walk, go on vacations, go to Disneyland all day, and be able to do anything a normal person did,” recalls Spero’s mother. While she cannot be a part of the community like she used to, she instills those values into her daughter.
Spero has people around her who are “immensely proud of her.”
“If it were me, I couldn’t handle it all,” Felice Spero said.
Madison Spero is an example of how programs like MESA, financial aid and understanding professors help students achieve.
“She takes it day by day, I take it day by day,” Felice Spero said. “I don’t think my illness is her main focus but it is always on the back of her mind.”