Matt Walter’s high school career had a jarring interruption halfway through. As a sophomore, he went to the doctor to find out why he wasn’t growing. A series of referrals landed him in a kidney specialist’s office, who told him his kidneys hadn’t developed, likely due to his premature birth. At 17 years old, he was diagnosed with kidney failure.
After a trip to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, Matt thought was on the priority list for a transplant. He spent his entire junior year waiting for his operation; eating healthy, exercising, monitoring his blood pressure, all while dealing with traditional high school challenges like the Standards of Learning tests and the SAT.
“Junior year I was supposed to have it but I didn’t. I wasn’t even on the list—at all,” Matt said. His kidneys declined the following summer, prompting his 20-year-old sister to donate her kidney. And in December 2016, five days before Christmas, Matt got a new kidney.
“She’s a really healthy person. She works out a lot,” a thankful Matt said of his sister.
While the rest of his class went through senior year together, Matt spent two months recovering. He studied through the school system’s Homebound program, where his teacher Ms. Fissmer came to his house every day to keep him up to pace in all his classes. “I kind of missed the senior stuff, like spirit week,” he said.
Matt will have to take pills the rest of his life, he can’t sit for long in direct sunlight and he’ll always need to strictly monitor his diet. But the 18-year-old said he feels at peace. He credits his friends to helping him adjust to a different, more fragile lifestyle.
“They tell me to eat healthier, to work out a lot. They do a lot of things to keep me motivated,” Matt said. “That’s really stuck with me a lot.”
As he graduates in a couple of weeks, the one thing Matt knows for sure is he wants to do his part to raise awareness of kidney failure.