Texas A&M: Sudden Kidney Failure Leads To New Lease On Life For Texas A&M Student

When Texas A&M University student Andrea Nuñez last spring began experiencing lingering symptoms that she couldn’t explain, she didn’t think it was an emergency. She exercised often and believed she was healthy, and since the pandemic began she’d experienced a variety of symptoms she thought were related to eating less healthy during lockdown. But when she began struggling to keep up with coursework and would sleep for prolonged periods each day, she knew something else was wrong.

Nuñez, a first generation student from Brownsville, Texas, majoring in industrial and systems engineering, decided to visit Student Health Services (SHS), the on-campus healthcare provider for Aggie students.

There she saw Claire Kolb, a board certified physician assistant, who immediately knew something was wrong due to Nuñez’ severely elevated blood pressure and other symptoms.

Kolb and the SHS medical team initiated emergent protocols and administered medication to help lower her blood pressure and reduce anxiety; however, her blood pressure remained elevated.

“The nurse asked me to sit there and do some breathing exercises to calm me down but nothing was working,” Nuñez said. “Nothing would lower my blood pressure.”

When Nuñez’ blood pressure did not improve, Kolb ordered immediate blood work and further testing to evaluate the severity of the situation. Blood work results showed that Nuñez was in acute kidney failure, with her kidneys functioning at only 16% of normal.

With coordination between SHS staff and local health resources, Nuñez was hospitalized and spent days at St. Joseph Health Regional Hospital in Bryan. She received a kidney biopsy that confirmed an acute kidney failure diagnosis resulting from Lupus, an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and organs. It was determined she needed at kidney transplant and set about finding a donor.

Weeks turned into months until the perfect donor was found. Out of a large group of friends and family who were interested in being a donor, the perfect match came from a family friend, Priscilla Cardenas. Cardenas said she is thankful to God for this beautiful experience that helped to save Nuñez’ life, and now considers Nuñez – who she calls “Andy” – as one of her own daughters.

“When we leave this life, what will we take with us?” Cardenas asked. “That is why I did it. I want Andy to make all her goals and dreams come true. I want her to be everything she wishes to be. I want her to be the best engineer at her dream job. I want her to get married and have children, and I want to take care of her children. I want her to live her life to the fullest like if none of this would have happened.”

Nuñez said she chose to prioritize her health during a busy and challenging time in her life, which resulted in her making the difficult decision to leave Texas A&M in July 2021. Her goal was to return to pursue her studies after her health improved, not knowing when that would be possible.

Recovery and the Road Back to Aggieland

After a successful six-hour transplant surgery in September 2021 at Methodist Hospital Specialty and Transplant Clinic in San Antonio, Nuñez began transitioning to a new normal with her health and she returned to Texas A&M this semester. Back in Aggieland, she is not only excelling in her coursework, but her quality of life has dramatically improved.

“I didn’t know I was that sick until I was this healthy,” she said. “I learned to put myself first. I learned that school is important but it’s not as important as our health.”

Nuñez’ believes her story will bring hope to others who may be going through a similar situation or are finding it hard to keep up with coursework because of a medical condition. She is quick to recognize that Kolb saved her life, and she is grateful for the support and local resources that helped her get care and assisted during her recovery.

She expects to graduate in May 2023 and plans to attend graduate school and hopefully one day work at Disney. She said she chooses to find joy and reminds herself daily to focus on what really matters.

“Nothing is more important than yourself and your happiness,” she said. “That also includes your health, so take time to breathe, to have fun, to be with your friends and family, and live this life to the fullest.”