By the time Becky Scheip was three years old, doctors knew her kidneys were leaking protein into her body. No cause for panic, they said, but six years later, after a swim meet, her parents rushed Becky to the emergency room. A series of blood tests revealed her failing kidneys had reached end-stage renal disease. Without daily cleaning, her kidneys would not support her anymore.
"I wasn’t really thinking about what would happen to me. I was just thinking about what was going on right then. I wanted to find out what was happening, and how I could fix it," said Scheip, now 13 years old and a rising eighth grader at Key Middle School in Springfield.
For nearly 19 months, Scheip has been living with a new lease on life, thanks to a kidney transplant which took place in December 2003 and allowed her to renew her energetic lifestyle.
"After, through the transplant, she would just bounce," said Kathy Scheip, Becky's mother. "When I meet people who have heard that I have a daughter who has a transplanted kidney, and then they meet Becky, they say ‘Okay, where’s your daughter with the medical problem?’ Well, there she is, right there."
Now, Becky Scheip is taking that energy one step further. From July 17-25, she will compete in the World Transplant Games in Ontario, Canada, swimming in two events on a United States team that includes athletes from all age groups.
"I’m really excited, but at the same time I’m nervous, because … I’m going to be representing the US," said Becky Scheip, for whom swimming has been a part of life nearly as long as her kidney problems. For seven years she has swam with the Springboard Barracudas swim club, which includes 100 members, ages 4-18. Coach Shea Manning said he first met Becky Scheip in the summer of 2004.
"I was completely thrown off-guard by it. She's not any different from any of the kids," he said. "There was absolutely nothing that would be telling me that she had had this operation just five months prior."
According to the National Kidney Foundation, 62,000 Americans are on the waiting list for kidney transplants, 2,200 of which are in the Capital area. Fifty percent of those eligible to donate their organs upon death choose to, and according to NKF, one organ and tissue donor can affect as many as 100 people.
"It seems like it didn't have any effect on Becky at all. We saw a young girl who came close to dying and
her kidneys failed, and she continued to go to school, she lived her life just as if she was a regular kid. She wasn't going to let it hold her back," said Preston A. Englert, Jr., President & CEO of the National Kidney Foundation of the National Capital Area.
"When you go to these transplant games, and you look at the people who are running and swimming, without the ability to do these transplants, every one of these people would have died by now."
For years, Becky Scheip preferred to keep her kidney disease private. Through a relatively new procedure called peritoneal dialysis, she underwent kidney filtration through an at-home machine. Each night while she slept, the machine would do the job her kidneys couldn't. By the time she awoke, she was clean. It didn't mean all was completely normal. Foods like chocolate, potato chips, and any kind of cheese were all off limits during the time she was on dialysis.
"She didn’t want to be different. She didn’t want to go to school on the days they would have parties where there were things she couldn’t eat, because she didn’t want to have to explain," said Kathy Scheip.
Becky chose some friends to share her disease with selectively. News of her competing in the World Transplant Games had an effect on her teammates at Springboard. The club held a "swim-a-thon" on Sunday, July 10 to raise money for the National Kidney Foundation of the National Capital Area. The three-hour event included three-quarters of the club's members, as well as coaches, who gathered pledge sheets from donors and swam laps to raise money. Local restaurants donated breakfast foods, and money was also donated.
"I personally did service in high school and it was a good experience for me, and I wanted to get our kids involved in it," said Manning. "I guess we're trying to make it so other kids like her are able to recover as well as she does."
Scheip, the youngest of five children, continues to play soccer and lacrosse, as she has done except for a five-week break after her transplant.
"I’m a very active person. I can’t sit and do nothing for a long period of time. I have to be doing something."
She hopes her participation in the games means more awareness about the presence of kidney disease in people her age.
"It makes me feel like I have more friends than I thought behind me. It makes me feel good because I know people do care."