Health & Medicine

Diagnosis puts woman’s search for organ donor on hold – for now

Greenhaven resident Chelsea Roman was hoping to find a living kidney donor, but a diagnosis of early-stage thyroid cancer has put that quest on hold for a bit.

Roman, profiled in The Bee in October, will undergo surgery in mid-February to remove about half of her thyroid, the large gland in the neck that secretes hormones regulating growth and development. The tumors are tiny, Roman said, a fraction of a centimeter.

Roman, 33, said she has been on the transplant list with UC Davis Health for about five years and a year with the University of Washington in Seattle. Born prematurely, she has kidneys that didn’t fully develop and have never functioned at more than 25 percent.

Roman said UW officials put her transplant on hold within minutes of being apprised of her condition. She has not heard about her status on the UC Davis list yet.

Being put on hold does not mean that Roman loses her place, said Kimberly Simmons, a transplant coordinator with the UC Davis Health Transplant Center. Thyroid cancer is treatable with surgery, and, if it did not spread, those survivors can still qualify for kidney transplant.

“Transplant medications are also called immunosuppressants. They decrease your immune system, so your immune system doesn’t attack your new kidney,” Simmons explained. “That’s great, but ... you have no fighting capability against cancer. If you have cancer and you’re on transplant meds, it’s going to come back and flare like a huge fire. And, that will kill you.”

Roman’s sister, Halley Miglietta, said their parents often told the story of how doctors managed to revive a stillborn Chelsea but then warned her parents that if she lived, they could expect a severely disabled child. While Roman has surpassed medical expectations in many ways, her kidney function has continued to decline and now is under 10 percent. She started dialysis in October.

The thyroid cancer diagnosis devastated her, she said, but she’s grateful that doctors caught it so early.

“I went to my primary-care doctor back in October for my annual visit,” Roman said, “and she told me that my neck was looking a little full. She said, ‘Let me refer you to endocrinology.’ ... We did the ultrasound, and they found two nodules, one on the right side of the thyroid and the other kind of in the middle.’”

Miglietta said she wishes her sister could just catch a break.

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee

Organ donation

Chelsea Roman is one of several local residents seeking a kidney donor. Kidneys can be donated by both living and deceased individuals. Here’s how to become an organ donor:

To become a donor posthumously, visit Another option is indicating your wishes on your driver’s license, but no matter which way you register, experts say, always make your wishes clear to family members because they often must give consent.

To become a living donor, visit and click the “Donate” tab. Often, living donors can start a chain of giving where relatives or friends of recipients volunteer to become living donors in gratitude for the gift their loved ones receive.