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My Transplant Story: Rachel Muñiz

Rachel Muniz

My kidney journey began almost a year into my career as a nurse. In 2020, I graduated from nursing school. I’d chosen nursing as a second career. I always wanted to be a nurse, and in my late 20s I was able to start down the path to becoming one. Unexpectedly, I began my career during the COVID pandemic. I worked as a trauma and COVID nurse during those times—a very challenging start.

My transplant journey began during a dentist appointment, where my dentist checked my blood pressure as a part of his protocol. It was extremely high. I was only 33 at the time, so the numbers were alarming. I thought it might be the stress of working in the middle of the pandemic and working the night shift as well, but as a nurse, I knew I needed to get it looked at.

I made an appointment with my PCP right away. When my lab work came back, it was reflective of being in Stage 4 kidney failure. My doctor ordered imaging and immediately referred me to a nephrologist. A biopsy confirmed I had sclerosis of the kidney. I was eventually diagnosed with Post-Infectious Glomeruli Nephritis; we learned this later after looking up a kidney biopsy I had as a kid. When I was very young, I had recurrent strep throat, which affected my kidneys. I saw a nephrologist for a while and was told I would eventually grow out of it. Up until this point, I thought I had. I never had any abnormal labs on my kidney function that raised concerns like this. In fact, at my last physical before this, my labs were completely normal. A year later, I find out I am in Stage 4 kidney failure and would need a kidney transplant in the next two to three years.

Looking back, I don’t know how shocked I really felt. I knew I had some kidney issues as a kid, but I think I felt more optimistic because I still felt great and I have always been a very healthy and active person. One of my biggest physical accomplishments was completing the NYC Triathlon a few years before. So, I knew I would be OK. I had hope.

About a year and a half later, I started to get tired. I noticed that I didn’t have the same energy—it was slowly slipping away. I was becoming symptomatic. I wasn’t doing the same physical things I was doing before. Then, in November 2022, I really started to decline. I was sleeping at least 14 hours a day on the days I wasn’t working full-time at the hospital. Eventually, in May 2023, I ended up hospitalized and needing dialysis. I began peritoneal dialysis and was on it for six months before I received my living donor kidney in November 2023.

Once I was officially on the waitlist at Mayo Clinic Phoenix, I was introduced to the NKR’s microsite program on how to find a living donor. I had some family members willing to try, but unfortunately, they did not qualify as donors. As my disease progressed, my mental health declined. I really started to struggle—I felt I was losing hope, and that was the scariest part for me.

I wanted to take back my power from this disease and feel hope again, so I wrote my story and shared it on social media.

Rachel Muniz

One day, I decided to share my story publicly on the microsite to help find my inner strength again. I wanted to take back my power from this disease and feel hope again, so I wrote my story and shared it on social media. I was shocked at how it was received! My best friend Kate shared my story on her Instagram and a friend of hers reached out to her almost immediately and said, “Hey, my sister is in the process of donating her kidney because she has always wanted to help someone who may need one, maybe she’s a match with your friend?’’ We were not a match, but she offered to do the NKR’s Voucher Program, which would allow me to receive a living donor kidney from someone who is a match with me after she donated her kidney. In June 2023, she donated her kidney.

While being evaluated at Mayo Clinic, I was still working as a trauma nurse. This diagnosis changed my life, and I was starting to want to help people like me who were going through kidney failure and needed a transplant. I loved how I was treated as a patient at Mayo Clinic, and I decided to apply to their transplant unit. I have now been working at Mayo Clinic’s transplant unit for over a year. I worked full-time while on dialysis, helping patients recover from organ transplant surgery. It was extremely rewarding for me, especially during that time. Working there has really empowered me and given me the strength to get through the hardest times of this disease. I couldn’t have been in a more supportive environment.

In October, I got a call that there was a match for me, and they wanted to set a surgery date. That date was set for November 21, 2023. That was it, I had a match! I couldn’t believe it. I had my surgery at Mayo Clinic and my coworkers got to be my nurses! My new kidney was doing great! It was one of the happiest times of my life. It is a special memory I will always cherish.

Just like my first donor, who donated her kidney just to help a stranger in need, my matched donor donated her kidney just to help a stranger as well. I couldn’t believe how similar their stories were.

Rachel Muniz

A few weeks later, the social worker asked me if I would be interested in connecting with my donor and of course I wanted to, but you never know if the other person feels the same way. I signed the consent form and a couple of weeks later I received an email titled, “You have my left kidney!” I was so happy to connect with my donor. Just like my first donor, who donated her kidney just to help a stranger in need, my matched donor donated her kidney just to help a stranger as well. I couldn’t believe how similar their stories were. We have all connected and my two donors both live in the same part of the country and plan to meet this April. I am planning to meet them once I am more healed and it is safe for me to travel. We are all excited!

I am so grateful to the NKR and the microsite program for helping me find my gift of life. I originally just wanted to share my story to help me cope with the hard times I was going through, and I received so much more!

I didn’t really know what to expect from it all, but I ended up receiving the best gift of all. I got my life back! I am now just over three months post-surgery, and I am still healing and getting stronger each day. My new kidney is working great, and overall I feel like I am getting back to myself one day at a time. I am looking forward to this new chapter and what is out there for me in my new life.