By Heather DiPrato Photos by Michele Freiling Photography
March is Kidney Awareness Month. There are over 100,000 people in the US waiting for a kidney transplant. Petra Schlatter is a Newtown native with Stage 4 kidney disease. This is her story.
In the weeks ahead, the daylight hours will extend, warm breezes and sunny skies will burst through the murky grey overhead, and the magnificent fruit trees that line State Street and other roads in Newtown Borough will begin to bud, shaking off the dead of winter and welcoming spring.
Newtown native Petra Schlatter’s parents Peter and Anne Chesner owned the Whitehall Hotel on State Street, now converted to shops and restaurants. Years ago, it was a working hotel and local watering hole. Petra’s father took over the hotel from his parents Eva and Alexander Chesnulis who purchased the Whitehall in the 1920s. They immigrated from Lithuania. It was also Petra’s father who planted many of those delicate trees that still line the main thoroughfare. “My father was the self-proclaimed “Shade Tree Commissioner” in Newtown back in the day,” Petra laughs.
Mr. Chesner was involved in many things in Newtown Borough. In fact, in honor of her dad’s lifelong commitment to planting and caring for the beautiful Bradford Pear and other trees, the last Saturday in April, Arbor Day, is officially Peter Chesner Day in Newtown! Ms. Schlatter still loves walking through Newtown beneath the flowering canopies that her father was instrumental in planting.
As we chatted from a distance in front of the Whitehall Hotel during our photoshoot in January, Petra recalled her childhood, and reminisced about the historic significance of her dad in the town. Mr. Chesner was chairman of the Bucks County Airport Authority and a founding member of the Newtown Rotary club. “Some people called my father ‘Mr. Newtown,’ or ‘The Tree Man,’ remembers Petra. “He was always active in making the Newtown community better.”
Much like her dad, Petra spent her life working within the community. In her youth, Petra attended Council Rock and Bucks County Community College and earned a BA in journalism from Temple University. She was the editor of the student newspaper and a newscaster at WTYL, the closed-circuit radio station at the community college. There, Petra started a French club called “The French Connection” and planned a class trip to Quebec. She studied to be a newsprint reporter and editor. “Looking back,” Petra jokes, “it seems I spent more time at the radio station or school paper than in class!”
Petra landed her first job in broadcasting at CBS radio and TV station in Philadelphia, as Herb Denenberg’s personal assistant. Herb was a consumer affairs reporter and host of a talk radio show. He recommended Petra for a programming job for the show “Ten Around Town.” In that role, Petra had the opportunity to interview well-known entertainers including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Liberace. Ms. Schlatter eventually took on a role in print journalism at the Advance of Bucks County and Yardley News. As a journalist, she shared stories of local people and events. She also worked in public relations for Lasalle University and Doylestown Hospital and volunteered to do public relations for The Peace Center , NAACP Bucks Branch and the African American Museum of Bucks County.
Petra raised her two children in Bucks County, and each went on to graduate college and embark upon successful careers. Her daughter, Liz, is 30 years old and graduated from the University of the Sciences with a Bachelor’s in Biology. Liz went on to complete her Master’s in Forensic Science at Arcadia University. Petra’s son, Pat, earned his Bachelor’s in Business Entrepreneurship at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Pat is married with two children, Allayah and Arlo. Petra looks forward to spending more time with her family and friends once the pandemic allows.
Over the past several years, another important part of Petra’s life has been managing kidney disease. The kidneys perform a critical function in the body, acting as a filtration system and removing waste and excess fluid from the body. Anyone fighting kidney disease must be very conscious of all foods and beverages they consume. Petra makes renal-friendly meals every day and often posts pictures on Facebook to help raise awareness and inspire others.
There are five stages of kidney disease, and Petra is fighting stage 4, which is considered severe, with just 19% function in her kidneys. Stage 5, known as “end-stage kidney disease” or “renal failure” occurs when the kidneys are functioning at 15% or below. Without a living donor, it can take up to 7 years for a deceased donor kidney to become available, and those years can be quite difficult. Without a donor, Petra will have to go on dialysis in 2 to 4 years. Dialysis is a stopgap measure and not a permanent solution.
Petra believes a living donor is her best hope to avoid dialysis and see her grandkids grow up. As a woman of faith, Petra believes a donor will become available, and has been praying for a living donor. “I also focus a good deal of my time on my hope to make this world a better place,” says Petra. “I enjoy sharing what I call ‘Peace, Love and Harmony’ on my Facebook page, which has about 3,500 followers. My goal is to inspire others about what the Quakers call “The Inner Light.”