Everyone always wants to know “why?” Why would I want to donate a kidney to a stranger. I say, why not?? I read an article in a women’s fitness magazine about a lady that donated her kidney to a stranger. That day I said, “I am going to do that.” I was surprised that I did not know previously that this was possible. I figured I would be able to donate with no problems, anywhere I wished. I was hoping to donate close to home. I knew I was physically and emotionally healthy. What could stop me ??
I have worked in hospitals for 20 of my 38 years. I have seen my share of dialysis patients. Surely, dialysis has become better over the years, but it is still dialysis. I know if I had renal failure I would want a transplant if that were an option for me. I don’t have time to go to dialysis. I don’t like to watch TV and I don’t like to sit much.
I can’t exactly remember what happened next, but I told a few people that completely FREAKED OUT!! They actually thought I was completely nuts and one went so far as to actually talk to my parents about it. I figured my mom, a RN, would have been as excited as I was so I wasn’t worried about it. Again, I was shocked when she did not support me at all. I also told some co-workers at the hospital where I worked. They all kind of rolled their eyes. Doctors I have a daily working relationship with did not encourage me either.
So I started my research on the internet. I did a search and found USC’s transplantation home page. I emailed a coordinator there. I wrote, “I would like to donate a kidney to anyone in need. Please contact me.” It seemed like forever to get them to respond. Eventually I sent them my medical records upon their request. Meanwhile, I also found the University of Minnesota’s website. They did non-directed donations and they talked about it. USC could never give me a straight answer if they actually did non-directed donations. Eventually USC rejected me due to a urological procedure I had done at 6yrs of age. They telephoned me and it was all a blur, but somewhere in there I heard the words “it is very generous of you, but…” Of course I was very discouraged. I had asked a urologist about my past procedure and he said he felt it was a “non-issue.” I had been pretty excited about donating there since that is where I had gone to pharmacy school and it felt like the place to do it. An hour and a half drive from home, but much closer than Minnesota.
The U. of Minn. was very helpful. They didn’t treat me like I was a nut and they actually returned emails and telephone calls. I told them what USC had said and they told me they would evaluate me themselves. I would never want to donate if it could have some potential negative outcome on me. I knew they would not take my kidney if it were not safe for me. The health of the donor is the most important thing. They sent me out a packet of info after giving me a health questionnaire over the phone. Included were a lot of articles that pertained to kidney donation and an extensive health history to complete. I read everything and sent the questionnaire back. Eventually they sent me a letter and told me to have a history and physical with my personal physician and to get a number of lab tests done, “if I was still interested.” They paid for the testing. Since I lived in California it was not possible for me to see their physicians for the initial physical and testing. Once they got the results they invited me back to Minnesota for a full day of testing. It was an adventure. I was so nervous my normally low/normal BP was elevated. They assured me that is often the case, but I sent records with my normal BP readings in, just to be sure they were comfortable with the values. I saw the Head of Transplantation, a nephrologist, a nephrology fellow, a social worker and a psychologist. I had to take a personality test that had about 560 questions. I had about 20+ vials of blood drawn and then an x-ray study of my kidneys. I watched a video for donors. My day was from 7am until 5:00 pm. My flight was due to leave about 7pm. It was a very stressful but awesome day. I hoped all the tests were okay and that I had made a good impression. I was myself, and that all is that they ask for.
It seemed like forever for them to contact me with their decision. They said it would be about two weeks. Waiting is hard. I looked for news everyday. I emailed the coordinator a few times, but I tried not to be a pest. Eventually I got word that “you can donate, if you still want to.” STILL WANT TO !! So a recipient was chosen sometime over the next month and a surgery date eventually set. I ended up donating about 10 months after I started my journey to donate.
Again, I flew 1,300 miles. I had two friends accompany me and another acquaintance (and now friend) drive up from Tennessee to be there with me. Another friend had moved out that way and visited me as well. Two of the friends were nurses so that was big help. The angiogram was a piece of cake. The lying flat with your leg straight for six hours post was NOT so easy. Bedpans are no fun and I ended up on one about four times. Thank God I only had to urinate. The surgery was much more painful than I anticipated. I know all surgery hurts, but I was not expecting that amount of pain. I was in the hospital for five days. I had the hand-assisted laproscopic procedure. My surgery was six hours.
My intestines gave me a lot of trouble post-op. I could not pass gas for about one month without a suppository. All my pain seemed to be related to intestinal gas. Only one of the four incisions was tender and they all healed fine. My intestinal problems lingered for some time. I had to go back for numerous doctor visits due to pains all related to my intestines. I was off work for eight weeks, all due to my crazy intestines. Now, 4-1/2 months later, they do not work like before, but I am thankful they work. I will take anything at this point. I have taken every laxative known to man. It is quite an embarrassing problem to have.
Life after donation is different somehow. Everyone wants to know if I met my recipient, but I did not. I was much more curious about them before the surgery. Now after surgery, I seldom think of them. I can only hope for the best and know that I did what was right for me. Hopefully it will give them a different and perhaps better life. I can ask the transplant center how they are doing anytime I wish and they will let me know. I did receive a letter from the recipient and know it went to someone who suffered greatly for many years. My weeks of discomfort were nothing compared to all that they have been through. I have no regrets. I would do it all over again.