Thrive by IU Health

June 28, 2022

From Africa to Indianapolis: Ms. Hollman’s Trek to Meet a Kidney named ‘Kevin’

IU Health University Hospital

From Africa to Indianapolis: Ms. Hollman’s Trek to Meet a Kidney named ‘Kevin’

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes,

In her younger years, Gabriella “Gabby” Hollman set up a makeshift classroom in her Fort Wayne, Ind. home and coaxed her sister to play “school.” Later, when she graduated from high school and headed to IU Bloomington, she set her sights on a career in the classroom.

During her senior year, Hollman, 25, had an opportunity to take that passion to Tanzania, East Africa as a student teacher. She spent three months teaching at a private school - students ages 12 to 16.

“I always looked up to my teachers. There was always something about the impact teaching had on others that drove me to the classroom,” said Hollman. Teaching in a far off place and experiencing a different culture, added to that impact, she said. “It helped me work better with students whose primary language was not English.”

Her three-month stint included volunteering at an animal shelter, experiencing a safari, and unexpectedly getting lost during a long hike and being rescued by local tribesmen.

As Hollman tells her story, her mother, Tiffany Hamill, sits beside her hospital bed in the transplant outpatient clinic at IU Health University Hospital.

Neither of them imagined that Hollman’s sojourn to a land more than 8,000 miles away would result in her near death - when she returned home to Indiana. But upon her return, she was so run down that she could barely enjoy her graduation party.

“I felt achy and feverish and went to bed early. The next day I had a 104 fever. It was my sister’s high school graduation and I ended up going to the hospital. If I hadn’t caught it when I did, I would have died,” said Hollman.

What she “caught” was malaria, a serious disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects certain types of mosquitos.

According to the World Health Organization, there were about 227 million cases reported worldwide, the year Hollman was infected. The estimated number of deaths were 627,000. The organization reports four African countries accounted for just over half of all malaria deaths worldwide. The United Republic of Tanzania was one of those countries.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines the various choices of anti-malaria drugs. The CDC includes the most effective medications based on the length of travel and other conditions such as age and if a traveler is pregnant. While kidney damage is considered rare with anti-viral medications; there are warnings that some of the drugs can lead to renal complications.

After going to her local hospital ER on June 2, 2019, Hollman was admitted to intensive care. She had developed disseminated intravascular coagulation syndrome (DIC), her heart was surrounded by fluid, her kidneys, liver and spleen were failing, and her lungs were filling with fluid. Blood tests revealed that her body was also not responding to the malaria medication.

“A special request was made to the CDC to open its ‘vault’ and fly in a medication that was not FDA approved in the US, but used widely in areas of the world where Malaria exists,” said her mom. A pharmacist met the plane at an airport in Fort Wayne.

Hollman spent two weeks in the hospital near her hometown. When she left, her kidneys had failed and her body had deteriorated so badly that she was unable to walk, her mom relates in an online blog. During her final days in the hospital, the principal and vice principal of Fort Wayne’s Maple Creek Middle School came to the hospital to interview Hollman for a teaching position. She was hired as the school’s English teacher. Her dream of becoming a teacher came true and she was determined to give it her all in the classroom.

To prepare for the upcoming school year, she started dialysis three times a week, and began physical therapy to build her strength. Her first year in the classroom, she became known as, “Ms. Hollman” to her students. She was not without struggles. And then there were the challenges of a pandemic that caused delays for surgeries, such as transplant. Her mom relates that there were frequent hospitalizations, nausea, and low energy. In December 2019, she switched to home dialysis that helped free up her schedule somewhat and restored her energy.

“The irony of all of this is that I took Doxycycline, the medication that wasn’t as strong as the other that may have caused kidney failure. Then I get malaria which ultimately caused the kidney failure,” said Hollman.

A friend, who chose to remain anonymous, was tested and approved as a match for Hollman. Her blog shows pictures of her arriving on the IU Health Transplant unit at University Hospital. “Ms. Hollman” received a new kidney on May 18, 2022, in the care of IU Health surgeon, Dr. William Goggins. Back in her classroom, Hollman’s students wrote on her chalk board, “Kevin the Kidney.” From then on, her new organ was called, “Kevin” and her hospital room was filled with homemade cards from her students.

The day after transplant, Hollman’s mother wrote: “The doctor took a picture of Kevin. He’s a big healthy boy.” They continued to chronicle Hollman’s journey with photos of nurses helping her walk the hallway and leaving the hospital five days after surgery.

She’s spending the summer regaining her strength and working to put back on weight that she lost - enjoying banana cream pie ice cream in a waffle cone. For the time being she’ll remain in Indianapolis where she can be close to IU Health for her clinical visits.

“I think my clinic my experience with IU Health has been great,” said Hollman. “I really appreciate the nurses and all the attention they give to detail. And a bonus is they always know the best places to get ice cream.”