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Attitude key for teen transplant recipient

19 hours ago  •  PETE WICKLUND

Teen advocates donor registration

Abbi Strack maintains a page on Facebook called Abbi’s Challenge. On it she shares encouragement for others enduring major health challenges and advocates for organ donation registration.

“Everyone says I have a really cool story and I’m really open about it and I’m positive about it,” Strack said.

Strack encourages people to check the organ donor box on their driver’s licenses. And if they are unsure about becoming a donor, Strack encourages people to look up a site online (like or “to learn about the facts and myths.”

“You’re helping people like me. If I didn’t have the kidney I wouldn’t have a life,” Strack said.

RACINE — Once you meet Abbi Strack, you are less surprised about how she is doing so well after undergoing a kidney transplant on Aug. 7 at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. In large part, it seems her recovery is related to her positive outlook on life.

While doctors continue to monitor her as her immune system remains a concern, the 18-year-old is taking classes at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee online and is working at a local daycare. And she is a willing and vocal advocate for the organ donor system.

Strack was born with one of her kidneys about one-third the size of the other, leaving the dominant kidney handling the bulk of the work for her system. In the third grade, she underwent surgery to move the ducts that move urine between the kidneys and bladder. In the seventh grade, Strack was again hospitalized due to problems brought on by high blood pressure related to her condition. At one point during the latter episode her blood pressure jumped to as high as 210/80.

“I was close to stroking out,” Strack said in an interview on Sunday morning. “I almost died in the seventh grade.”

Shortly after the holiday season last year, her health began to decline again. Her stamina was faltering and during a practice for the Horlick High School varsity softball team, Strack suffered a quick onset of dizziness and nearly blacked out. Although scheduled for a doctor’s appointment a couple of weeks away, she and her parents had it moved up.

“When I say to my parents that I’m not feeling well they know that I’m serious,” Strack said.

The message received from physicians was that it was time for Strack to go on dialysis. Her kidneys were operating at about 15 percent of their ability. Strack was outfitted with the apparatus needed for dialysis and was just days away from undergoing her first treatment when the call for the transplant came in August.

Helping Strack move up the donor recipient list were a number of factors, including her age, the gravity of her condition, the fact that she does not drink or smoke and her physical condition — much of it related to her athletic prowess (in addition to softball, Strack played football for four years at Horlick High School).

In typical fashion for the gregarious and determined teen, Strack was out out of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa in about a week. She was eating solid foods just a day after her surgery.

While now back into a near-normal routine, Strack still has to take precautions. Her immune system is vulnerable, so she will wear a mask in some public situations. And she has to watch getting bumped or hit in her lower right abdominal area where the donor kidney sits.

“I’ll always probably be pretty jumpy about it. If I get hit there, even a little bit, it hurts a lot,” she said, recalling one recent incident in which a young charge at the daycare center where she works gave her a jolt when he head-butted her in that sensitive area.

Co-workers have asked Strack if she is worried being around the germ incubators daycare centers can be. Strack says she just loves working with children but will take precautions like wearing a mask. She enjoys telling kids she has super powers as the reason for the vibrating sensation that can be felt on her forearm in the area that was prepared for the dialysis.

Strack hopes to combine her desire to continue to work with kids and her personal journey to work toward becoming a pediatric nurse, perhaps at Children’s Hospital in Wauwatosa, where she must travel several times each week for checkups.

“I’ve been there so often that there are nurses that when I walk in the door will say ‘Hey, Abbi how are you doing?’ ”

In the mean time, Strack is looking forward to a trip next spring to Germany provided by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. There, she will indulge her interest in World War II history.

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