APACHE JUNCTION, AZ — Right now, roughly 1,600 Arizonans are waiting on a life-saving organ. Many wait an average of three to five years for a donor, and some even pass away while on the list.
Laura Echeverri has been waiting for 17 months. Unlike some, she has the luxury of waiting a bit longer, but it comes at a tremendous cost.
"I do peritoneal dialysis at night. Five days a week, for eight hours," said Echeverri.
The lengthy and invasive process used to take ten hours and happen every night.
Laura said it prevented her from sleeping, and it is one of the many inconveniences as a result of her disease.
Everything changed six years ago, when she was just 24-years-old.
"It's called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis," she said.
The rare genetic kidney disease was stage three when it was detected.
"I was told that on average people live about 15 to 20 years on dialysis," said Echeverri. "Not even retirement age... Luckily with [a] transplant, life prognosis is a lot different."
Laura made significant life changes to even get on the transplant list.
"I lost 80 pounds in order to get qualified," said the Apache Junction resident, who has lived all over the Valley.
Now, more than a year later, she is waiting for the life changing phone call.
"The reality is, about 17 people on the national organ wait lists die every day because there aren't enough organ donors," said Nico Santos, a spokesperson with the Donor Network of Arizona.
Some of Laura's family and friends tested to see if they were a match, but unfortunately it did not work out. They did create a moving billboard though, to generate potential donors.
"My coordinator said they have had some inquiries," said Echeverri.
Before the disease sapped her energy levels and the dialysis depleted her sleep, Laura was a behavior coach for troubled youth. She has since gone back to school and wants to help others dealing with disease and life changes.
She has also created a Facebook group to spread positivity and share information between people living with kidney diseases, their loved ones, and others waiting on a transplant.
Laura is an optimist. She is confident she will one day be able to ditch the dialysis machines and take a spontaneous vacation.
"It [will be] a new life away from having to be attached to a machine in order to survive," said Echeverri. "Because that is my reality right now."
The fiancé also plans to finally set a date.
"I wanted the wedding to be a celebratory, 'Hey we are free to live our lives, and we have time,'" she said.
There are many other plans too.
"To visit my family in Columbia. To go swimming [and] to the beach. To stay up all night without having to hook up to a machine," she said, smiling.
If you would like to see if you are a kidney match for Laura, call the St. Joseph's transplant coordinator at (602) 406-8452 or Lorrie Hartel at 602-406-6199.
Laura said the recipient's insurance covers the entire procedure and employers are legally obligated to give their employee's time off to donate and recover.
The past year also set a record for living donations. They increased by 14% from 2020 to 2021, with 6,500 people donating.
The vast majority of kidneys and other organs come from deceased donors.
Arizonans can join the DonateLifeAZ Registry when they apply for or renew a driver’s license or state ID at an ADOT MVD or third-party office. They can also register online.