In 2015, Fatema Alhebsi was expecting a child when she fell down at her home in Abu Dhabi. She went to a nearby hospital for care, and after some tests, she was told that she had lost her baby. Doctors suspected that she had developed high blood pressure, and possibly a condition called pre-eclampsia, during her pregnancy. Pre-eclampsia is a potentially fatal condition for both the mother and the baby, characterized by high blood pressure and usually accompanied by damage to the mother’s organs, such as the kidneys.

After recovering from the fall, Fatema continued to feel tired and returned for further testing. Results confirmed that her kidneys were only functioning at 5% capacity. Fatema was diagnosed with kidney failure. 

To maintain the health of Fatema’s kidneys as well as her overall health, doctors recommended dialysis and medication. Dialysis is a treatment that mimics the natural function of the kidneys, which is to remove waste and excess water from the body. This cleanses the blood and prevents these substances from building up and causing health complications. Dialysis requires patients to spend hours in a facility, multiple times per week. 

Reluctant to undergo dialysis, Fatema was treated only with medication for four months. After suffering another fall, she was told that dialysis was no longer optional, and that she must begin treatment immediately. One significant symptom of kidney disease is poor appetite, and Fatema’s health and strength were declining. 

Shayma Alhebsi, Fatema’s sister, was very concerned about her health. “I was so afraid for my sister,” she related. “I was crying every day about her: What will she do? What will she eat?” When the family was told that Fatema must have a kidney transplant, Shayma discovered that she was the only one with the same blood type as her sister. She offered a kidney to her sister without hesitation: “I immediately said I would be happy to give my sister a kidney. We only live once. If I did not step in and help my sister, then who would do it?”

News Spreads of the First Kidney Transplant at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi

Initially, Fatema and Shayma had planned to have the kidney transplant performed in South Korea, even though it was far, expensive, and would be a challenging trip with Fatema’s health. But then one day, they saw an article posted on Facebook about the first kidney transplant performed at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. When the sisters realized that they may be able to have the procedure close to home, they decided to make an appointment right away. 

They met with Dr. Bashir Sankari, who has been with the Cleveland Clinic organization for more than 25 years and has performed more than 1,000 kidney transplants. “When Dr. Sankari talked about the surgery,” Shayma recounted, “he told us to feel comfortable, to say anything if we were scared. Then he said ‘Don't be afraid about this, we’ve done a thousand of these surgeries before,’ and it made us feel comfortable.” Within one month of meeting with doctors and caregivers at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, the transplant was successfully performed.

A New Life, A Stronger Bond

Following the transplant surgery, Shayma and her family continued to help Fatema with her recovery. Shayma shares, “The doctors and caregivers]were so wonderful with us. We would call to ask about one thing, and they would ask us about everything.”

Shayma is happy her sister’s health has been restored and that she is able to live a more active, healthy life: “Before the surgery, she could not do anything, she could not eat anything, and she could not go anywhere. Now, my sister is eating differently and she can go anywhere. She is a completely different person.”