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Noank woman hopes for kidney donor and someday 'a normal life'

By Deborah Straszheim

Publication: The Day

Published June 23. 2014 4:00AM
Sean D. Elliot/The Day
Brooke Rymash in her Noank home Thursday. Rymash had a lifesaving liver transplant 20 years ago. Now the anti-rejection drugs she needs to keep that liver have damaged her kidneys, necessitating a transplant.

Groton - Brooke Rymash wants what so many other young women want: To get married, go on a honeymoon, have a normal life.

But she needs something first.

"I want a kidney," she said.

Rymash, of Noank, underwent a liver transplant 20 years ago, when she was 15 years old and a student at Robert E. Fitch High School.

Now the drugs she took all those years to prevent her body from rejecting the liver have destroyed her kidneys. Her father can't donate because of a health condition. Her mother just had surgery and is trying to pass tests so she can donate. But she doesn't know yet if she'll be able to, and doctors told the family to start looking for a donor just in case.

"Brooke wants to lead a normal life. She wants to go back to work again and do what normal people do," her father, James Rymash, said.

"She's never had that chance," her mother, Carolyn Rymash said. "She needs that chance."

Brooke was a runner and a tennis player when, in 1994, she developed a form of hepatitis that was swift and severe. In one week, she went from running to being in a coma.

First, the whites of her eyes turned yellow. Then her entire body turned yellow. Then she didn't know where she was since the illness affected her brain, and she started screaming.

She doesn't remember it. But her parents said she died three times in the ambulance between Lawrence + Memorial Hospital and Yale-New Haven Hospital. Doctors put her immediately to the top of the transplant list, and she had one within hours.

Still, Brooke Rymash had to fight. Her body rejected the liver three times. Then doctors found cancer all over her small intestine. Finally, they discovered Brooke had three inoperable brain tumors.

The Rymashes' son, Todd, had died at age 10 of complications connected with Down syndrome.

James Rymash said he remembers sitting in a room full of oncologists and surgeons at Yale as they described Brooke's condition.

"They told us she had two to three months to live," he said. "To take her home and enjoy her."

Carolyn Rymash told them no.

"We are working with God and she will not die," she recalled saying.

Carolyn Rymash said she took her daughter to see a faith healer in December. Afterward, she said Brooke began to slowly improve. She had to learn how to walk again, use her hands and perform simple tasks like holding utensils.

Neighbors and friends helped the family.

"To this day, we still thank the community for their support," James Rymash said.

The Rymashes believe that God saved their daughter. "Brooke was healed by the Lord," Carolyn said.

Two years after becoming sick, Brooke Rymash graduated from Fitch. She later earned an associate degree at Mitchell College and got a part-time job. She had to take drugs to keep her immune system in check, and she tired easily. But she was otherwise doing well.

Then recently, her lab tests came back flagged. Doctors who'd been checking her liver function started checking her kidneys.

They weren't working as they should.

"Of course, you're in denial," James Rymash said.

Finally, about eight months ago, a specialist told the Rymashes their daughter would need dialysis soon and ultimately, a kidney transplant.

"We thought we had time. But we didn't," James Rymash said.

Brooke was put on the transplant list at Yale and her parents went to see if they could donate. Brooke has type O blood and needs an O-Negative or an O-Positive donor.

Medical tests showed initially that neither parent could donate, despite having the right blood type.

Her mother had high calcium, and had parathyroid surgery three weeks ago to correct it. Brooke's father learned a main artery had been 80 to 90 percent blocked. Doctors inserted a small tube to correct it.

"So I saved his life," Brooke Rymash said.

Rymash said she had a dream recently that her mother was going to give her a kidney. Carrie Rymash wants to, but she has to pass a battery of tests to see if she can.

In the meantime, Brooke goes to dialysis three times a week. It's boring and she said, "I get so tired."

But she knows what she wants when she gets well. She wants to move somewhere warm, marry someone "who loves only me" and have a honeymoon.

Her parents want that normal life for her.

"We just want someone to say, 'I want to give Brooke a kidney,'" Carrie Rymash said.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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