After a Lifetime of Adversity, Chelsea Roman is Thriving

After a Lifetime of Adversity, Chelsea Roman is Thriving

After a Lifetime of Adversity, Chelsea Roman is Thriving

In 1984, Chelsea Roman entered the world two months early. Her mom went into labor in a parking lot. Fortunately, that parking lot was across the street from a hospital.

Chelsea’s mom walked to the hospital in severe pain, and before they could even numb her up, she endured a delivery by cesarian. Chelsea was stillborn. For the first five minutes of her life, Chelsea was not breathing.

“I came out of my mother blue,” says Chelsea, who was born weighing only 3 pounds.

The doctors and nurses were able to revive Chelsea, but she had no kidney function for the first month of her life, and she had to be in an incubator for the first two months.

“I am all bloated up in the pictures, because I was not urinating,” say Chelsea.

Chelsea (baby) and her mom, dad, and sister Halley.
Chelsea (baby) and her mom, dad, and sister Halley.

Eventually, Chelsea started getting better, and after three months she was sent home with 25% kidney function. The drugs she was given as an infant left her with vision loss, severe hearing loss (she wears hearing aids to this day), and a speech impediment.

A Lifetime Spent in Nephrology Offices

As far back as she could remember, Chelsea has been in nephrology offices, and had labs drawn.

“My parents were very vocal about my kidney issues,” she says. “As far back I can remember, they told me, ‘You have severe kidney disease, Chelsea’ and ‘You do not want to go on dialysis. You want to try to preserve your kidney function as long as you can and get a transplant.’”

So, Chelsea grew up religiously eating no salt and drinking tons of water.

“To this day, I can chug water like nobody’s business,” she says. “It’s all I ever drink.”

Tragedy Strikes at a Young Age

When Chelsea was 4, her dad passed away from cancer, and her mom moved Chelsea and her sister from Los Angeles to Northern California to be near her grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

“Because of my health issues, mom was working all the time to support my sister and me, and she was gone a lot,” she recalls.

In 2008, her mother was experiencing pain and went to the hospital. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and died two days later.

Her mom had always taken Chelsea to her appointments and stayed on top of her care. Now 24, she was going to have to go at it alone.

“It was now up to me to do what I had to do to continue preserving my kidney function,” she says. “I did my labs and went to my nephrology appointments every three months. It was important to me to keep living the best life that I could even with the challenges that I had.”

Living the best life possible, however, was more of a challenge than Chelsea would bargain for.

Getting Proactive About Her Health

After her mom’s passing, Chelsea decided to take the BRCA gene test, which is a blood test that is done to determine if you have changes (mutations) in either breast-cancer gene—BRCA 1 or BRCA 2—that significantly increase your risk of breast cancer.1

“I tested positive for BRCA,” she says, “and I immediately told my aunt, ‘I am going to get a double mastectomy. I do not want to have cancer while having kidney issues, and I sure don’t want to get a kidney transplant someday and then end up getting cancer.’”

In 2012, she had a double mastectomy and underwent the reconstruction process, which was a year-long procedure.

She also got waitlisted for a kidney transplant.

Enter Thyroid Cancer

For the average person, it would be too much being born without oxygen, kidney function, and hearing. Not to mention losing both parents and having a double mastectomy.

Chelsea, however, has a persevering spirit.

So, in 2017, she took in stride her diagnosis of thyroid cancer.

“I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and had half of my thyroids removed,” she says. “It was also in 2017 that my kidney function dropped from 25% to 9%. So, it was time to start dialysis.”

Making Lemonade from a Dialysis Lemon

At this point in time, Chelsea started to get proactive about finding a kidney donor.

“I was active on social media, and I printed out magnets and gave them to all my friends and family, and they drove around with these magnets on their cars saying I needed a kidney,” she says. “I did everything in my power to get my story out there.”

Chelsea ended up having more than 20 people tested to be her living donor. One problem though—she has B-positive blood, which only 9% of the population has.2

“Just because you are diagnosed with kidney disease doesn’t mean your life has to stop,” she says. “While I was dialyzing, I still went out with my friends. I traveled with my at-home dialysis machine. I would go across the country multiple times per year with my machine and all my supplies … I was set on being successful on dialysis because I had no other choice, and I didn’t want dialysis to define me.”

The Call

Chelsea was told once that they might have a donor for her, but it ended up being a false alarm. Then, in November 2019, it was 11 p.m. on a Saturday when her phone rang—usually a sign that something is wrong.

On the contrary, the voice on the other line told Chelsea to be at the hospital at 6 a.m. the next day because they had a kidney for her that was a perfect match.

“I woke my husband up and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, they have an organ for me!’”

The next morning, she went to the hospital, and they prepped her for surgery. The organ—from a deceased donor—was en route to the hospital.

At 4 p.m. on Sunday, November 17, 2019, Chelsea’s new kidney was transplanted into her.


Good Health—35 Years in the Making

For the first time in Chelsea’s 35 years of life, she had a functioning kidney.

“I woke up and was overwhelmed with emotion,” she says. “For me, I was just thinking about the family who had lost this beautiful person, and the grief they were going through. I knew exactly what they were feeling.”

Her first thought was, “I have to take care of this kidney, and do everything in my power to keep this person alive inside of me.”

The first few days in the hospital, Chelsea had to learn about all the medications she would now be taking.

“I took a total of 32 meds,” she says, joking that dialysis was “a cinch” compared to having to remember all these medications.

(If you are new to transplant living and –like Chelsea—need help remembering all your meds, try the AlloCare® app. The AlloCare app lets you:

  • Get medication reminders
  • Log medications you have taken
  • Easily keep your medication list updated

To download the AlloCare app, click here.

COVID Interrupts the Honeymoon

The first few weeks after her transplant, Chelsea had labs done twice weekly. She started feeling great with her brand-new kidney, and then … COVID!

“I tell people who complain about being locked up for the for the past year, ‘I’ve been locked down since November 2019,’” laughs Chelsea. “I was wearing masks and avoiding crowds four months before anybody else was.”

She considers herself “lucky” to have a job that lets her work from home. She works for a company where she educates people about dialysis.

Having no interest in going to a hospital during COVID-19 for her labs, Chelsea uses RemoTraC® where a mobile phlebotomist comes to her house for blood draws.

Looking Forward

Chelsea and her husband, Mark, live in the Sacramento area. They’ve both been vaccinated, and Chelsea recently got a fourth COVID shot and is awaiting her antibody tests. Although Mark has returned to his workplace, they’re both being careful and cautious about their exposure to others—limiting visits with family and friends to only those who’ve been vaccinated. And holding out hope for the future.

1 Mayo Clinic
2American Red Cross