Kids’ Medical Miracles: On a Mission

The Virginian-Pilot honored only a handful of high school students from each local school this spring through their Scholastic Achievement Scholarship and Recognition Program. They call it their “annual salute to the best and brightest.” Among them was 17-year-old Samantha Page, a student in Chesapeake’s Oscar Smith’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

“Senior. Editor-in-chief of the Tiger Times school newspaper; mission trip to Memphis, Tenn; overcoming medical issue while maintaining academics. Plans to attend Macalester College for a career in Spanish,” read the summary next to the picture of the young woman with a big smile on her face and a flower in her hair.

Not mentioned: Samantha entered her senior year with a 4.67 grade point average. (She thinks her final GPA will be close to that crazy-high number.) She’s completed a ton of volunteer work with children through her church and mission trips. She resurrected her school paper with help from her friends. She wrote a 4,000-word essay about the Amish, on top of tackling her usual six-class course load. Oh, and she led an anti-eating disorder campaign at school.

All in spite of being diagnosed with kidney disease last November, in the thick of her senior year.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, chronic kidney disease decreases the kidneys’ ability to keep a person healthy. Wastes can build in the blood, making the person feel sick. He or she can suffer high blood pressure, weak bones, poor nutrition and nerve damage. Kidney disease increases the risk of having heart and blood vessel disease.

When kidney disease progresses, the kidneys can fail and make dialysis and a kidney transplant necessary. Diabetes, high blood pressure and other disorders can cause the chronic disease.

But Samantha doesn’t suffer from any of those conditions.

“We don’t know why I have it,” says Samantha.

Last summer, Samantha started taking a lot of naps, not something she usually did. In August and September, she had bad migraines, again not a typical concern for her. At times, the migraines would cause her to leave school early.

As her symptoms worsened, Samantha and her parents, Carol and Peyton, pointed their finger at a likely culprit: stress. 

All high school seniors feel it, and IB seniors maybe more so, as they work to meet the extra degree requirements: That long essay. Fifty hours of community service. Fifty hours in a physical activity. Fifty hours in an artistic pursuit.

In November, Samantha saw Dr. Alka Julie Cherry from Chesapeake Pediatrics.

“Actually, I didn’t even get a chance to see the doctor,” says Samantha.

When the nurse took her blood pressure, the reading was way above normal. Another nurse took it with the same result. After talking with the doctor, they called an ambulance. Samantha needed to go to Chesapeake Regional Medical Center.

“I felt like I was punched in the gut,” Samantha’s mom, Carol, remembers. “It was so out of the blue. ‘What did I miss?’ I wondered. How did I have no clue?”

Dad Peyton met the two at the hospital and later followed them to Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters (CHKD).

Samantha spent her first two nights at CHKD in the pediatric intensive care unit and five more on a regular floor.

The family learned of Samantha’s stage III kidney disease on the fourth day after a kidney biopsy. Dr. Reem Raafat explained the biopsy and the fact that Samantha had high creatinine levels.

“I was kind of relieved to have an answer,” Samantha says.

The Page family learned the basics: The disease can cause high blood pressure, which can cause migraines as Samantha experienced. High blood pressure can also cause kidney disease. The circular link can make it hard to determine the root of the problem.

The disease doesn’t run in Samantha’s family.

Medicine to combat high blood pressure eventually helped Samantha.

“We had to do some juggling with the medicine,” explains Carol. “At first, Samantha’s blood pressure would go too low. That would drain her energy.”

The nurse at Oscar Smith would check Samantha’s blood pressure every school day, making sure it was normal. If the number was off, the nurse called Peyton, who would call Dr. Irene Restaino, who works with Dr. Raafat.

As of this summer, Samantha’s creatinine levels have decreased.

“They’re still high,” says Samantha, “but not as high as they have been.”

She visits Dr. Restaino every three months. At her last visit, she got the news she wanted to hear.

“Dr. Restaino told Samantha, ‘Go do what you want to do!,’” says Carol. “We’ve been so grateful to the doctors. They talk to us and Samantha so that we understand what’s going on. They focus on her and her goals.”

Within limits, though.

“Samantha had thought about taking a gap year before she learned about the kidney disease,” Carol says. “It makes even more sense now. She looked into doing mission work. One program she liked involved travel to Israel, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. The doctor said ‘no problem’ to Israel, where she felt good doctors would be available in case of an emergency. She even said ‘no problem’ to Mexico. With the Dominican Republic, she was concerned.”

Samantha chose another four-month program she is equally excited about based in Minnesota. She starts work in the fall and will travel on missions in the United States.

“When I was first diagnosed I was told I could need a transplant in six months to a year,” Samantha says. “Now with my number a little better, we’ll see.” 

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