Despair Turns to Hope for Shiara Veltman

April is National Donate Life Month. During the month, we are highlighting those who have been touched by organ donation and emphasizing the importance of becoming a donor.

By Coral Denton and Caroline Lee

Shiara Veltman lived a healthy childhood until seventh grade when she fell ill following a trip to Cedar Key, Florida, with friends. She was treated for bronchitis and prescribed antibiotics, but soon she became very swollen.

Initially, it was thought she was allergic to the antibiotics, but after further testing and hospitalization, she was diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome and focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, or FSGS, both substantially impacting her kidneys. Even though she altered her diet to consume less sodium and took medicine to help with her diseases, she still had episodes of swelling.

Shiara Veltman

“Other kids at school didn’t understand why I was swollen and they made fun of me a lot for it,” Shiara said.

When Shiara was 15, her doctor called on Halloween instructing her it was time to begin dialysis at UF Health. She missed most of her sophomore year and half of her junior year of high school while awaiting a kidney transplant, but thanks to her teachers and her mother, she was able to keep up with her schoolwork.

“Being on dialysis is terrible,” Shiara said. “While I was waiting for my transplant, I wasn’t hopeful. I saw the statistics – that I would be waiting four or five years for a kidney since so many people need transplants.”

Luckily, Shiara received her transplant on Nov. 11, 2018, after a year of dialysis. Her journey was not without complications, as FSGS is recurring, and impacted her new kidney too.

Shiara began plasmapheresis treatments at UF Health Shands, making the nearly 1.5-hour trip from Inverness to Gainesville twice a week for a few months, before the treatment frequency was lessened to weekly, then every other week. In total, Shiara spent a year completing plasmapheresis treatments.

Shiara Veltman Speaking in front of class

During her treatments, Shiara’s nurse was Jerry Lewis, R.N., a former UF Health Shands nurse and ambassador with LifeQuest Organ Recovery Services. Lewis’s wife had been an organ donor when she passed away, and Lewis volunteered with LifeQuest as a guest speaker in high school classrooms, sharing the importance of donation with students. He encouraged Shiara to share her story with her classmates.

Since the beginning of the 2019 school year, Shiara has volunteered with Lewis and other members of the LifeQuest team, including Coral Denton, senior public education coordinator with LifeQuest Organ Recovery Services. Shiara also was trained to be a LifeQuest Ambassador, and has presented to Citrus High School students in multiple classes.

“I’ve loved volunteering,” Shiara said. “I love sharing my story and encouraging people to be donors. Donation is beautiful.”

Shiara’s journey with her own kidney transplant and volunteering at LifeQuest has ignited her passion in advocating for organ donation.

“Register as an organ donor so others have a chance at life,” Shiara said. “When people get transplants, they can go on to experience and accomplish amazing things.”

To register to be an organ donor, click the button below.