News Article -Tarra Wagner



Sussex Country woman anxiously awaits a kidney transplant

FRANKFORD — Flo Puccio is extremely cautious before allowing anyone into her family’s Sussex County home to talk to her daughter. “She has no immune system so if you have a cold or the flu, don’t come because it could mean pneumonia for her,” the 55-year-old Puccio warns.

Since her daughter, Tarra Wagner, was diagnosed two years ago with chronic kidney disease, a life-threatening ailment that won’t go away without a transplant, Puccio tends to be overprotective of her only child. The long wait for a transplant has become stressful.

“Nothing is routine with her. We always have our bags packed,” in anticipation of a call from Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, where Wagner, 33, has been on a waiting list to get a new kidney for nearly a year, her mother said.

But Puccio remains steadfast in her support of her daughter.

“It’s our kid. We’re going to do what we have to do,” she said.

In New Jersey alone, there are nearly 3,000 people waiting for life-saving kidney transplants, said Shamkant Mulgaonkar, chief of the Saint Barnabas renal and pancreas division.

Mulgaonkar, who has performed kidney transplants for more than 30 years, said he once relied heavily upon deceased donors, but more than half of the transplants now come from living donors.

“The majority come from relatives, but we’re seeing more unrelated donors, altruistic donations coming from wonderful people who want to help someone,” he said.
Depending on blood type, the average wait for a kidney donation is three years, Mulgaonkar said.

In addition to a healthy dose of patience, Mulgaonkar recommends that people in need of a kidney transplant should reach out to friends, family members and others to discuss their plight.

“You can’t go out and solicit and put pressure on people. Go out and talk to the people you know. Tell them the truth,” he said. “The important thing is a person should not be pressured.”

Wagner’s long history of health problems began when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 13. While keeping a close watch on her diet and with regular insulin injections, she said the diabetes didn’t dramatically affect her lifestyle and was relatively easy to control.

It was two years ago, on March 16, 2011, “the day before St. Patrick’s Day,” her mother recalled, when Wagner’s life took a drastic turn for the worse.

“I wasn’t feeling right for a couple of days, so we went to a kidney doctor and he found my kidneys were functioning at less than 10 percent,” said Wagner, gently petting her dog, a Chihuahua named Dutchess, during an interview in the family’s small kitchen.

Wagner’s active lifestyle then came to a screeching halt. A 1999 graduate of High Point Regional High School in Sussex, Wagner had to quit attending Dover Business College, where she was an honor roll student, and was forced to give up her job working with autistic children.

“It’s hard, especially being so young,” said Wagner, her eyes welling with tears.
“This is my life here,” she said, holding one of two small baskets overflowing with an array of prescription medications she takes to treat her disease.

There are no spontaneous occurrences for Wagner, who undergoes dialysis at home every four hours. If she wants to go out with friends, she must plan the outings days in advance to work up the strength — or risk overexerting herself and becoming seriously ill.

“If I go out with friends, I have to plan it at least three days in advance and I have to do absolutely nothing beforehand,” Wagner said. “I just go see doctors mostly, those are my outings.”

Today, between their daughter’s doctor visits — Wagner regularly sees more than a half-dozen doctors to treat the various aspects of her illness — Puccio and her husband, Andy, spend much of their time just waiting for the phone to ring from someone offering to donate a kidney for Wagner.

“There are some people out there who say to themselves, ‘I want to do something good,’” Puccio said confidently.

“It could be tomorrow, next month,” she said.

For more information about the renal and pancreas program at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, call (973) 322-5938.

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