When Jill Riester found out she had PKD, she was a 23-year-old newlywed just home from a military stint in Germany with her United States Army husband … and she was absolutely shocked.
No one else in her family had been diagnosed with PKD, and Jill's doctor was of little comfort. He photocopied a few paragraphs from a medical book describing what was known about PKD at the time and discouraged her from having children.
"It's the only way to end PKD," he said.
Jill strongly disagreed, switching doctors and doing everything she could over the next 30 years to end PKD in a more proactive way – through research and education.
Jill was quick to find the PKD Foundation and become involved as a Kansas City Chapter volunteer, Walk for PKD coordinator and support group leader. While she was volunteering, her husband Bill helped by encouraging his military peers to designate the PKD Foundation as their charity of choice for the Combined Federal Campaign. This national campaign allows government personnel to donate a portion of their salary to select nonprofits across the nation.
"I remember the year they added PKD to the list of charities you can donate to," says Jill. "It was wonderful because then our donations were going to something close to our hearts."
Finding treatments and a cure for PKD has been a cause close to Jill's heart – and her family's – since her diagnosis, but it was really in 2002 that the disease began to take its toll.
PKD wasn't only compromising her kidneys; it was affecting her liver as well. Jill was forced to have a liver resection – the most difficult of the eight surgeries she's had over the years due to PKD.
In 2003, Jill needed a hernia repair, and in 2005, she had a nephrectomy to make room for the new kidney doctors knew she'd one day need. Just months later, she went on dialysis.
That summer, at the Lake of the Ozarks with her college sorority sisters, everyone realized how dire Jill's situation had become. All of her friends tested to be a donor, but no one was a match.
Jill's sister was also tested, and while they seemed to be a solid match, she was eventually ruled out. Jill's sister had PKD too.
Finally, after months on dialysis, Jill received a call. Her good friend's husband, Bruce, volunteered. He felt a calling from God that made him sure he would be a good match. And he was.
"There's just no way you can ever thank a person enough for putting his life on the edge for you."
Jill (middle right) thanks Bruce (middle left) every year
on the anniversary of her kidney transplant.
On November 16, 2005, Jill received a healthy kidney from her friend Bruce.
"I refer to it as the best day ever," she says.
Jill's body responded perfectly to the new kidney, and Bruce recovered with ease.
"It's been life changing," says Jill. "There's just no way you can ever thank a person enough for putting his life on the edge for you."
That doesn't stop Jill from thanking Bruce each and every year on the anniversary of her transplant. Last year, she sent him a collage of photos celebrating all the amazing things she's been able to do since her transplant – watching her son get married and both her children graduate from college.
And while Jill is living life with health and hope, it's her children she fights for now.
Neither has been tested or diagnosed with PKD, but Jill is clearly aware that each has a 50 percent chance of inheriting the disease.
"Anyone who has children knows how close they are to our hearts; you would do anything to keep them from going down the same path," she says. "That's where my heart is – funding this research to find a cure."
Finding that cure is why Jill and her husband, now retired but still working for the Army as an advisor and contractor, continue to push family, friends and everyone working for the government to choose the PKD Foundation as their charity of choice for the Combined Federal Campaign.
"It's at the tip of our fingers," says Jill. "We're so close to finding a cure."
If you are a federal employee or serve in the military, please designate PKD Foundation (#10317) when participating in the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC).
Thank you for helping us find treatments and a cure to end PKD.