A Mother-Daughter Transplant Story – Angie Dudley, Bakerella

There are many things a mother can pass along to her daughter, but it takes a unique generosity—not genes—for a mother to give her daughter a kidney. In June, Angie Dudley, owner of the blog, Bakerella, and creator of cake pops, received her second kidney transplant from none other than her own mother, Sandy Cunningham. Although this is not Angie’s first transplant experience, she says her mother has, from day one, offered to be her organ donor.

Transplant Patient Angie Dudley & Mother, Sandra Cunningham

Transplant patient, Angie Dudley, with her mother, Sandy Cunningham.

Angie was diagnosed with Focal Sclerosing Glomerulonephritis (FSGS) in April of 1991 after a routine doctor visit led to kidney biopsy. It was found to be heavily scarred, and by October, Angie was undergoing dialysis and on the waiting list for a kidney transplant.

“My mom was very proactive in trying to get on the [donor] list,” Angie said, but doctors suggested they wait for a kidney from a cadaver. “I didn’t want to make my mom go through that because they told me in half the cases of my disease, it reoccurs.”

After 10 months of continuing peritoneal dialysis—all while attending college and working part-time— Angie received her first kidney transplant at just 20 years old.

Dr. Christian Larsen, MD, PhD, performed both of Angie’s transplants. “I was so happy with what [Dr. Larsen] did,” Angie said. She was glad to see that the incisions from her first surgery healed with minimal scarring, which she attributed to Larsen’s thoughtfulness. But she didn’t expect that after nearly 19 years of health, Larsen would have to operate on her again.

Near the end of 2010, things took a turn when Angie’s symptoms resurfaced. Doctors determined she would likely need a second kidney transplant.

“I guess I really thought my kidney would last as long as I would,” Dudley said. “It was kind of overwhelming emotionally to think about losing it because it had been with me for so long. I didn’t want it to go bad not because I wouldn’t be willing to have another kidney, but there was a life sacrificed for that.”

Her mother had already begun emailing doctors again, seeking approval to be Angie’s organ donor. “This time [my mom] was adamant about being the donor,” Angie said. “I don’t think I could’ve stopped her if I wanted to.”

After taking various tests and retests, Sandy Cunningham finally received the news she’d been waiting for: She was approved be her daughter’s kidney donor. “That was just the most awesome day of my life,” Sandy said. “It still is.”

On June 14, both mother and daughter underwent surgery for the transplant. “I was most worried about my mom being the donor,” Angie said. “I didn’t want anything to happen to her.”

Angie’s mom, on the other hand, was confident. “While I might’ve been nervous, I pushed it all aside because that was the very best resource that we had,” she said. “We were doing the best thing we could do. Had I died doing that, it would have been fine. I truly feel that way, and I would do it again.” But her daughter objects, “I would go on dialysis again if there was any risk of that,” she insisted.

Knowing she wouldn’t be able to walk for a few days, Angie insisted on seeing her mother right after the surgery. “[The staff] wanted to take me to my room, and I said, ‘No, wheel my bed into her room so I can see her.’”

Dr. Nicole Turgeon, MD, assistant professor of surgery at the Emory Clinic, operated on Angie’s mother and said Sandy couldn’t have had a better donor. “The bond that these two share was very striking,” she noted. “The love they have for each other is remarkable.”

Dr. Turgeon also commended Angie for her accomplishments as a baker. “[She] does some really neat things with Bakerella,” Turgeon said. “The fact that she can have kidney disease and still be so creative and contribute to society in such a way that you would never know she even had kidney disease is what was most striking to me.” Dudley began blogging in 2007, but her Bakerella site went viral after she posted pictures of her cake pops, an adorably enticing treat she concocted herself. Since then, her aptitude for creative baking has landed her on the Martha Stewart Show, as a judge in various baking competitions, and even on the red carpet at the Emmys, thanks to Duncan Hines.

Angie’s website, www.bakerella.com, receives almost three million page-views each month, and she also published a a New York Times best-selling book, appropriately titled Cake Pops, which will soon be available in four different languages.

Not surprisingly, her mother’s generous nature reflects in Angie’s work. “What turned into something for me has turned into something to give other people,” she stated.

“How much her mom was willing to promote and care for her…was probably a big part of why she was successful and had the ability to live a normal life despite having kidney disease,” Turgeon said of Angie. “I think that’s a tribute to her mom.”

And no matter how succsesful she becomes, Angie agrees that she will, first and foremost, always be her mother’s beloved daughter.

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