Fans were blown away in September after Selena Gomez revealed that she had a kidney transplant after suffering complications from lupus. Selena also revealed that her friend, actress Francia Raisa donated a kidney to her. Now, they’re both opening up about their experience.
“My kidneys were just done,” Selena said in an interview with Today. “That was it, and I didn’t want to ask a single person in my life. The thought of asking someone to do that was really difficult for me. [Francia] volunteered and did it. And let alone someone wanting to volunteer, it is incredibly difficult to find a match. The fact that she was a match, I mean that’s unbelievable. That’s not real.”
Francia says she was living with Selena when she realised her health was deteriorating. “One day she came home and she was emotional. I hadn’t asked anything. I knew she hadn’t been feeling well,” Francia said. “She couldn’t open a water bottle one day. She chucked it and she started crying. And I said, ‘What’s wrong?’ and that’s when she told me. And she goes, ‘I don’t know what to do. The list is seven to 10 years long.” Francia added, “It just vomited out of me: I was like, ‘Of course I’ll get tested.'”
The testing process to determine if someone is a donor match for a patient usually takes about six months, Francia said, but because Selena was in an “emergency situation,” it was done in a day.
The day of the surgery, they had a friend French braid their hair, but Francia admits that she was nervous. “I had to write a will, which was scary because there’s no guarantee I’ll wake up,” she said. Francia had her surgery first and everything went well, followed by Selena who said she felt fine at first but later began experiencing a lot of pain.
Her doctors told her that she’d need to go right back into surgery—her new kidney was turning around in her body. “My teeth were like grinding, I was freaking out,” Selena said. “It was a six-hour surgery that they had to do on me, and the normal kidney process is actually two hours.”
The friends weren’t just up and running around afterward—it was a tough recovery process. They couldn’t even put on their own underwear or take a shower without help, and Selena says they could only walk for an hour each day. Still, Selena says that Francia saved her life, adding, “I got to the point where it was really life or death.” Francia says she also got something out of it. “I am beyond grateful that God would trust me with something that not only saved a life, but changed mine in the process,” she said.
Now, Selena says her health has dramatically improved. Among other things, her blood pressure is better, she has more energy, and the arthritis she suffered due to lupus is gone. At 25, Selena seems young to suffer from arthritis, but having a reduced kidney function due to lupus can lead to the disease, says James Pestka, a professor at Michigan State University who has studied lupus. “Replacing the diseased kidney…can alleviate these symptoms,” he explains.
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Once a lupus sufferer’s condition is better controlled, the symptoms they used to have from lupus should improve, which will generally make them feel better, says Orrin Troum, a rheumatologist at Providence Saint John's Health Centre, and a clinical professor of medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. Selena can expect her health to improve from here, he adds. “Her outlook and life at this point should continue to be more vibrant and she should continue to have more energy,” Troum says.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US