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Sarah Hyland on what having two kidney transplants taught her about strength

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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After 16 surgeries, the Modern Family star has spoken out about the emotional toll of physical illness.

Sarah Hyland is no stranger to hospitals. The 28-year-old actress has had 16 surgeries in her life thus far, including two kidney transplants, laparoscopic endometriosis surgery and a procedure to treat an abdominal hernia.

She had the first of the two kidney transplants when she was 21, receiving a donor organ from her father after being diagnosed with kidney dysplasia at the age of nine. 

Kidney dysplasia is when, instead of developed organs growing during gestation in the womb, fluid-filled cysts are developed. On occasion, kidney dysplasia occurs in only one kidney, and doesn’t require treatment or hospitalisation. But in others chronic kidney disease and even failure can occur, requiring dialysis and transplants.

This was Hyland’s experience, with her first attempted transplant at the age of 21 and a second in September last year after her body rejected the kidney she received from her father, along with four hours of dialysis, three times a week at a clinic near the set of her television series Modern Family.

Speaking to Self magazine for the first time about her second transplant, Hyland said: “I was very depressed. When a family member gives you a second chance at life, and it fails, it almost feels like it’s your fault. It’s not. But it does.” 

She added that in the lowest days of late 2017 before the second transplant she “was contemplating suicide, because I didn’t want to fail my little brother like I failed my dad… I had gone through [my whole life] of always being a burden, of always having to be looked after, having to be cared for.”

For Hyland, talking about how she struggled with the emotional toll of her physical illness is all part of the healing process. “It’s not shameful,” she said. “For anybody that wants to reach out to somebody but doesn’t really know how because they’re too proud of they think that they’ll be looked upon as weak, it’s not a shameful thing to say. It’s not a shameful thing to share.”

Since the second successful transplant, Hyland’s life has changed in several ways, some subtle and some dramatic. The first is that she can’t eat grapefruit anymore – her favourite fruit – because it interferes with the medication she must take to help aid the transplant process. Her appetite has increased and, with it, severe sugar cravings. 

Her body has changed too. She now has what she calls a “KUPA” (Kidney Upper Pussy Area) in her stomach, where the transplanted kidney sits and alongside a noticeable scar.

But this is all small fry for Hyland and her new lease of life. “I was born wrong,” she said. “Physically. In a way that’s not good for your body to keep going. Oh, and also I have endometriosis. Oh and also, I have kidney failure. Oh, and also, I’m a two-time kidney recipient… That list doesn’t stop. But that list doesn’t hold me back from anything. I won’t let it.”  

Images: Getty

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer, podcaster and recent Australian transplant in London. You can find her on the internet talking about pop culture, food and travel.

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