On Saturday, Erika Landry will get ready to slip into a gown and receive her diploma.
It’s a far cry from this time last year when she was preparing to receive a new kidney from an anonymous living donor.
After three years of battling kidney disease and other repercussions related to her illness, Landry was able to return to Belmont secondary school full time this year. On June 2, she’ll join 400 of her classmates for Belmont’s graduation ceremonies at the University of Victoria.
“It’s pretty exciting to graduate. It took a while,” said Landry. “I was really worried about not graduating.”
This year, she filled her course load with only academic courses and even signed up with the out-of-school program to gain an additional four credits.
“Erika has struggled through (nearly) insurmountable odds, she’s always been a trooper and given back to the school when she could,” said Belmont principal Carl Repp. “She has been a really solid student and one of this year’s high points will be to see her make it to graduation.”
While most teens spend their high school years hanging with friends and enjoying the last years of carefree fun, Landry spent hundreds of days in hospital. She missed more school than she attended and faced bullying when she did go to school.
Now 19-years-old, she has spent four years as a student at Belmont.
“I hadn’t really gone to school for three years so it was kind of hard to make friends,” Landry said.
When she was sick, Landry only came to school once or twice per month for only a few hours each time.
To put things in perspective, Landry spent 209 days in the hospital in 2009.
Due to enduring 12-hour dialysis sessions, Landry’s body started retaining water and caused her to gain 35 pounds on her petite frame.
A few students at the school bullied her about her weight, with a few even having the gall to tell her she had “let herself go,” Landry recalled.
Even many of her close friends became distant while she was sick.
But now she’s preparing for the next stage of her life. She wants to upgrade some of her courses and go to Camosun College to train to be a radiology technician.
Landry said she was inspired by the hospital staff at B.C. Children’s Hospital.
“Ninety per cent of my procedures were done under radiology,” Landry said. “The nurses were like my best friends. I talked to them everyday and they would come and hang out in my room with me.”
Over the course of the three years, Landry endured 18 rounds of chemotherapy and many blood treatments.
Last June, she underwent a kidney transplant that changed her quality of life drastically. After undergoing the major surgery, Landry woke up feeling better than she had in a long time.
Without the gift of a kidney, Landry would not be graduating and she would need to spend half her waking hours hooked up to a dialysis machine and taking 18 medications a day.
“(The kidney) started to work right away,” Landry said, extolling those who have agreed to be organ donors. “Organ donation is so important.”
The importance of check-ups
Erika Landry’s kidney disease was discovered in 2008 during a routine doctor’s visit.
The red flag was high blood pressure and, after some blood tests, she was admitted to Victoria General Hospital and then flown by helicopter to B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.
“I hate heights,” Landry said explaining she had fears the stretcher would roll out of the helicopter while in flight.