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Kidney odyssey takes Kenyan to India

  • Story Highlights
  • Woman travels from Kenya to India for a tricky third kidney transplant
  • Lorna Irungu suffers from lupus and already has received two previous transplants
  • One kidney was removed during the surgery to make room for the new kidney
  • Irungu now has four kidneys, but only one works properly
  • Next Article in Health »
By Sara Sidner
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NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- Lorna Irungu sits on a hospital bed looking extremely frail. She has lupus and her kidneys continue to fail.

Lorna Irungu, 35, had to travel from Kenya to India to receive her third kidney transplant.

Lorna Irungu, 35, had to travel from Kenya to India to receive her third kidney transplant.

"At some point I just wanted it to be over," said Irungu, 35. "I was just tired. I was really, really tired of the fighting, of the struggling, of being sick."

But Irungu did decide to fight, with the help of a very giving family. Three times she has needed a kidney transplant, and three times her family members insisted on donating. First her father donated, then her sister, and then her brother.

Irungu says what she couldn't find was a doctor who would do the tricky third transplant in her own country of Kenya. When she checked in neighboring countries, the cost was impossibly high. Irungu, who's single and has no children, has no insurance. So the former television host was paying for the surgery and medicines out of her own pocket.

"When we looked at the price of getting things done in South Africa. I'm like, 'We're never gonna get there.' It's $45,000. Where do I even begin?"

The cost of a kidney transplant in the United States can be $25,000 to $150,000, also out of Irungu's price range. Video Watch more on Lorna Irungu's odyssey »

So she began looking elsewhere, sending out e-mails and making phone calls to hospitals in other countries. Doctors at Fortis Hospital in New Delhi, India, were the only ones who responded to her somewhat complicated case.

Dr. Vijay Kher, the hospital's director of nephrology, first talked to Irungu by phone.

"When she called me from Kenya, she was very sick," Kher said. "She had uncontrolled blood pressures, and she was having fever. She had been in ICU for about three weeks."

But Irungu made it to India. Once her condition was stabilized, doctors performed the third transplant, which is a rare operation in India.

Of the 1,500 kidney transplants performed at Fortis Hospital, doctors remember having done only two in which the patient was having a third transplant.

Doctors had to remove one of the previously transplanted kidneys to make room for the new kidney, Kher said. Doctors said it was unnecessary to remove the three other kidneys because they were not causing harm and they didn't want to subject her to more surgery than was necessary.

Even with the complications that can arise during a third transplant, the cost of it and the weeklong hospital stay in India came to about $8,000. It's a fraction of the price she was quoted elsewhere, as is the cost of the post-transplant medication.

"This last surgery, I keep saying, has been remarkable." Irungu said. "I haven't felt as good post transplant as I did this time around."


After three months in India, Irungu is leaving with four kidneys inside her. Irungu says for now the newly transplanted kidney seems to be working great.

"From my experience, the cost here and the quality of care is worth it," Irungu said. "It's worth it because instead of you sitting wherever you are, thinking, 'This is the end for me,' or just getting depressed or getting into this struggle, (you can) just pack up and go."

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