When Ashley Brown’s kidneys failed her senior year in high school, she missed her class trip to Disneyland because she was on dialysis.
As her name was being called at Modesto High School’s 2007 graduation ceremony, she was being wheeled into surgery for a dual kidney and liver transplant.
Since then, she has struggled to finish college due to doctor appointments and financial constraints.
Brown, 25, missed out on much in life from the time her kidneys began failing in infancy because of a hereditary condition caused by a gene one of her parents unknowingly carried.
Despite warnings from multiple doctors, she wasn’t willing to miss the opportunity to become a mother.
Last week, Brown gave birth to a 6-pound, 5-ounce baby girl.
“She risked her life for this baby,” said Ashley’s mother, Kim Brown, as she held her granddaughter wrapped in a pink polka-dot blanket on Sunday.
Ashley has polycystic kidney disease, a progressive disorder that affects one in 20,000 newborns and leads to kidney failure. Of those who survive the first month, about one-third require dialysis or transplantation by age 10. The disease puts added strain on other organs and can lead to liver failure.
For 17 years, Kim braced for the day she would get “the call” that her daughter’s life would be saved.
When Ashley first said she wanted children of her own, Kim couldn’t bear the thought of watching her daughter endure another kidney failure and await another transplant.
“At first I was so exhausted of being scared for so long that I was leaning toward her not risking it,” she said.
Doctors discouraged her, too, and after she became pregnant, Ashley said, three of them even urged her to terminate during the first trimester.
“I don’t think it would have mattered what they said; I had my mind made up,” Ashley said.
Ashley checked into UC San Francisco’s Benioff Children’s Hospital on Feb. 11, where doctors induced labor. They hoped not to overstress Ashley’s body and cut through scar tissue created by the transplant, but ultimately after five days of labor a cesarean section was necessary.
Cheyenne Faith Sutton was born just after 6 a.m. on Feb. 16.
“Joey (Ashley’s fiancée) picked out Cheyenne; I chose Faith because you have to have faith in everything you do,” Ashley said.
The pregnancy and labor were taxing on Ashley but the least of doctors’ concerns. They told her the biggest risk due to transplant complications would have come during the six months preceding the birth.
While still recovering in the hospital, Ashley experienced the most severe spike in blood creatinine since her transplant, an indication her kidneys weren’t properly filtering the chemical waste.
“When it started rising, I thought for sure she was going to go through kidney failure, and then the next day all of a sudden it just went down,” Kim said. “I was already accepting in my heart we are going to have to go through this again, but it went down. I was really, really glad about that.”
Doctors increased Ashley’s anti-rejection drugs and ordered blood tests be done ever other week.
Ashley knows she’s not in the clear but said she wouldn’t have done anything differently.
“When I first saw her and held her, it was amazing,” she said. “It was love at first sight.”
She said that feeling of holding her child for the first time was oddly similar to what she felt the day she learned she would be getting an organ transplant.
“They are both life-changing events,” Ashley said. “They are both the start to a new beginning; one gave me life and the other, I gave life.”