Sarah Hyland is getting candid about her ongoing health struggles.
The Modern Family star — who had a kidney transplant in 2012, with her father serving as her donor — reveals to Self magazine that she quietly underwent a second transplant in September 2017. The donor was her younger brother. Hyland admits it’s been a very difficult two years — one that included a period of depression, in which she admitted she had suicidal thoughts and a lot of surgeries (six in the last 16 months).
Hyland, 28, who was born with kidney dysplasia, has been cryptic about her health, but now reveals that her body started to reject the donor organ in October 2016. Despite seemingly endless “tests and … treatments to try and save the kidney” — she was in and out of the hospital for months (“Christmas break, New Year’s, Thanksgiving, my birthday, all of that spent in the hospital”) — nothing worked. So on Valentine’s Day 2017, Hyland began dialysis, which involves a machine filtering a person’s blood because their kidneys can’t.
Hyland said she selected a dialysis center near the Modern Family set to keep working, but it was a grueling process. Three times a week for four hours a day, she was hooked up to the dialysis machine via a chest port under her skin that was visible. Her weight dropped, leading to headlines about her health, she got sciatica (severe pain in her back), her face swelled due to immunosuppressant drugs and fluid retention caused her blood pressure to spike, leading to her vision being damaged.
According to Hyland, she had the kidney removed in May 2017 and soon after got the good news that her brother, Ian, now 23, was a match for a second transplant. While that was obviously great news, she went through a deeply depressive period.
“I was very depressed,” Hyland admitted. “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 also worried the transplant might fail a second time. “For a long time, I was contemplating suicide, because I didn’t want to fail my little brother like I failed my dad.”
However, talking about her suicidal thoughts with someone close to her helped Hyland, and she encourages others to do the same. “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 or 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.”
Hyland had her second kidney transplant thanks to her brother in September 2017. Today, they’re both doing well. Ian told the mag that the “recovery period is not easy, nor is it something anyone can fully prepare you for, but he added, “If it saves the life of someone you care about, anything is worth it.”
Hyland is still adjusting too. While it’s been a little easier the second time around already being familiar with the process, it’s still a difficult recovery. And she’s coming to terms with how her new kidney has changed her body’s appearance too. She said that her lower abdomen — which she calls her “KUPA: kidney upper p***y area” — protrudes. “It’s this bittersweet moment of, ‘Oh, my gosh. I have new life,’ but then also being an actress and being held up to this sort of pedestal of how you’re supposed to look,” she said. “Sometimes I have complete meltdowns in the middle of fittings. Being like, ‘KUPA will show. I really want to wear this dress and you can’t hide it.’”
While the kidney transplant is behind her, it’s just one of her health woes. She also has endometriosis, the very painful chronic reproductive condition, and she’s developed an abdominal hernia. She had two separate surgeries since to address those. Hyland said she’s had 16 surgeries in her life — with six over the last 16 months. She has one more for the endometriosis — to target the remaining lesions — but she hasn’t set a date.
A bright spot has been her relationship with Wells Adams, whom she met for the first time three days before her second transplant. “He was texting me in the morning before I went into surgery, and we were FaceTiming the entire time I was in the hospital,” she said of the one-time Bachelorette contestant. “He’s seen me at my worst. He was there through all of that. I think that’s why I feel the most beautiful in his eyes, because he still finds me beautiful after seeing all that.”
She added that starting the relationship while she was recovering from such a grueling surgery helped too. “It was a really intimate start to a relationship to have to go through those hurdles at the very, very, very beginning when you’re just even getting to know a person,” Hyland said. “Also, falling in love with someone before you can really be intimate. I did not believe that that was a thing, but it is.”
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