The Oakdale single mom and Oakdale Stampede Junior Varsity cheer coach is far from giving up on life. To the contrary, she is speaking louder than ever to inform the community that kidney disease does not have to be a death sentence.
Hefley is currently living with IgA Nephropathy, or more specifically, Stage 4 Renal Kidney failure.
“I would like to single handedly change the perception of people with disabilities,” Hefley said. “It does not have to be a death sentence.”
Hefley began experiencing symptoms of the disease during the late 1990s, while pregnant with her daughter, Shania, who is now 13. Prior to her diagnosis, she reported experiencing chronic fatigue, high blood pressure and always feeling dehydrated.
“I was never diagnosed properly,” she said.
Her diagnosis came following an episode where she passed out while working as an EMT. Shania was just an infant at the time.
“Pretty much my daughter saved my life,” she said of the extensive testing done during her pregnancy, which ultimately aided in her diagnosis. “That was when they began looking for problems.
“At the time of my diagnosis little information was available regarding the disease.”
During this time, Hefley’s marriage to her children’s father was falling apart, she was unable to work and, on top of it all, she was sick.
“That was the hardest time of my life,” she recalled. “I pretty much went into denial at that point. I let things go and denied the sickness.”
Upon her initial diagnosis, Hefley was advised to return home and ‘get her affairs in order,’ with a prognosis of three years left to live.
Five years following that initial diagnosis and after two separate specialists projected three years of life for her, Hefley changed her views and began to focus on living.
Currently, Hefley is on dialysis, as well as a transplant list.
“I have options,” she said, reflecting her new outlook on battling the disease.
Hefley acknowledged the clinical setting one experiences during dialysis can be depressing.
“It’s also hard to keep a job, when you have to go to the clinic three times a week for dialysis,” she said.
To that point, Hefley shared that her dialysis treatments cost her a past job, which prompted a changing of her insurance and care provider and social worker.
This change would not only prove to be critical, but life changing for the single mom doing all she could to stay afloat and care for her family.
“They introduced me to at home dialysis,” she said.
According to Hefley, in a clinical setting, a dialysis schedule is at its max at three times a week versus at home care, which can be administered five times a week.
“My doctor said that it was better to do treatments five days a week, which is only possible at home,” she said. “Anyone with Stage 4 renal failure qualifies for at home care regardless of age. It is all covered by Medicare.”
As a single mom with two teenagers, however, Hefley had one obstacle in front of her to qualify. She lacked a partner to administer the treatments.
“My brother relocated here to be my home dialysis partner,” she said with an emotion-filled voice. “He’s a huge angel in my life.”
To be able to facilitate in the role of dialysis partner, Hefley’s younger brother, Travis Hellberg, attended a five-week training to learn how to administer the dialysis and properly use the needles. A port was inserted into Hefley’s left arm and an at home nurse visits monthly to supply her with any additional necessities that do not come by mail.
Each month 40 boxes of Dialysate, as well as 40 filters for the “fake kidneys” machine are delivered to Hefley’s home for a month’s worth of treatment.
“This at home treatment has changed my life and my kids life,” she said. “According to my bloodwork, my attitude and my outlook on everything has turned around. I don’t see this as a death sentence anymore.”
Now with the help of her brother, Hefley is able to maintain a job at United Cerebral Palsy of Stanislaus County as a Job Developer and this year she added the title of Junior Varsity Stampede Cheer Coach to her hat.
“This was my daughter’s first year as a cheerleader,” she said. “She’s never been able to be a part of any type of team, because of my disease and my inability to support that. This has been wonderful for her.
“They have been so wonderful to her and me,” she added of the Stampede youth football and cheer program. “It’s such a close knit family and there are all different walks of Oakdale involved with the Stampede. I just feel so lucky to be a part of it. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to her (Shania).”
Hefley shared that while she would like to think her disease does not affect her children, she recognizes that it does.
“My son is now doing well with school and my daughter’s self-esteem is doing great,” she said. “The Stampede thing, as far as social interaction for both kids, has been huge.”
As Hefley speaks of her children and the joy they have been able to feel as a result of this in home care, she becomes emotional. Her life has not been easy, her journey far from enviable, but she recognizes her good fortune and the blessing that came in the form of her brother.
“My brother really is the unsung hero in all of this,” she said, as tears filled her eyes. “We have always been close and when he learned this was possible and could help me live a full life, he dropped everything to move here and help me. He’s my best friend, he’s my guardian angel.”
Hefley also credits the community and the families of the Stampede for helping her and her children.
“Thanks to the friends I’ve made here in Oakdale a lot has changed for us,” she said. “And the Stampede moms have helped in every way they can. It’s actually overwhelming how good this community has been to us.”
Aside from her story, Hefley also has a message that she wants others to hear.
“I would really like to change the perception of persons with disabilities,” she said. “It’s very hard for them to find jobs, especially right now and I feel so fortunate. There is so much more you can do with your life. I would love to find support and help with starting a support group locally.”
Hefley also said she feels it is her duty to stress the importance of the need for live kidney donors.
“The state of California recently passed a bill to make us among the first in the nation to have an actual registry for live kidney donors,” she said. “People can live normal healthy lives with only one kidney and they are now making it easier for people to donate to someone they know or a complete stranger.”
Stressing the importance of donors, Hefley said, “Right now over 21,000 Californians wait for an organ transplant, over 100,000 in the USA and at least one in Oakdale.”
Reflecting back on her journey, Hefley indicated she was happy she chose to fight and not give up.
“Nobody can tell you when to give up,” she said, “because they told me that a long time ago and I won’t give up.
“They told me to have my ‘affairs in order’ and what does that mean? My affairs will never be in order. I’m going to fight.”
For additional information on organ donation visit www.donatelifecalifornia.org.