My name is Tracy McDanel, and this is the story of my kidney donation experience. On February 2nd, 2012, I underwent a laparoscopic kidney donation. The kidney went to my boyfriend’s sister, which is my best friend, Rachael Jeffords. Rachael developed a kidney defect around 12 years of age and had her 1st kidney transplant surgery. Her mother was the donor and the surgery was a success. She developed health issues about 15 years later that sent her to the hospital off and on. As time went on the health issues affected the good kidney and it was beginning to show signs of failure. At this point is when the doctor suggested she go on dialysis. They told her she would eventually need another kidney transplant. Instead of waiting for complete failure she decided to start the task of finding a match, thinking a sibling would be one. Neither of the siblings were a match and both had different blood types. So this is when me and 2 other friends stepped in and decided to get typed to see if we could be a match. They also had put her on the list for a kidney donor. About 2 weeks later I get a phone call from Lynne Polly (University of KY Kidney Donor Nurse Coordinator), she then tells me I am the match for Rachael. I was in total shock, didn’t know what to say. I was happy for Rachael, and totally scared to death about what was going to happen. I then called Rachael and told her the news and she was so happy. What are the odds, best friends and kidney matches??? <3
I am not going to lie, the testing process is a bit mental and emotional. We met with the coordinator and she tells you all the pros and cons of donating. Complications, death, other family members might need a kidney, surgery complications, etc.. list goes on… Rachael’s brother (Stephen), I and 2 other friends decided to test. Everyone thought Stephen would match and that the 3 of us wouldn’t because we were not related. We had to have our blood drawn for a blood/antigen match. It took what seemed like a month to even hear from the transplant coordinator regarding the results. I remember when I got the call; Stephen was not a match. They had different blood types. I had told Rachael from the beginning that I had hoped it was me because I really and truly knew her brother wouldn’t be able to go thru with it. He was terrified of doctors and needles. His blood pressure had shot up just with the idea of getting poked for blood.
Later the next week I remember getting the call from Lynne (nurse coordinator) telling me I was Rachael’s match. I was in total shock and happy at the same time. There are so many different emotions that run over you. I found out in December or so that I was a 4 out of 6 match for Rachael. This is considered rare, however not impossible. I received A LOT of negative feedback when I told certain family and friends. It got to the point where I didn’t discuss it with anyone except Rachael, her family, and my closest friends. I was extremely excited and stoked. I had the chance to save my best friends life. She is a sister to me and I couldn’t think of a better gift to give. Then there would be these people who would be like, “What if you need your kidney later?”, or “What if your child needs your kidney?” All of this negativity really ravaged my spirit at times. It was very hard to keep a positive outlook when I was being suffocated by disdain. I never realized how paralysis of compassion occurs when the fear of the unknown arises. At any rate, this blood drawing turned out to be the easiest portion of the whole testing ordeal.
Ok, so I had just begun the testing journey. After the blood test, I had to go in to see my primary care physician and have a complete physical. I had an EKG, chest x-ray and more blood work completed. Not to mention the exhausting urinalysis I had to keep taking over and over. I had all sorts of tests. I was tested for HIV and leukemia and I don’t know what else. I had knots in my stomach all of the time. I was so sure that I would match (and I did), but that hospital does not mess around. They will not perform a transplant if they think there will be any danger to the donor. It was so nerve racking. When I finally made it to the last stage of testing, I was an emotional wreck. UGH not to mention the last test I had, it was a CT Scan. They have to put an IV in your arm and run contrast liquid for an xray machine to take pictures of your kidneys. I almost passed out when the nurse couldn’t get the first IV in, I felt nauseous and dizzy. Finally called me back and this test feels really uncomfortable. This liquid is warm feeling and makes you think you pee your pants. LOL But you don’t . The tech said he couldn’t see anything wrong that they both looked good. So then it was another waiting game to hear back from the nurse.
I think the call came like a week or so later saying that the transplant was scheduled for the 2nd of February. So, we had to wait about a month. Ok, we had to check in the day before the transplant. The trip is about a 4hr drive. I rode with Stephen (my boyfriend) and their dad (Stephen Sr.), Rachael rode with her husband. Her husband’s mother and grandmother also came up for the surgery. I couldn’t have any solid food after midnight, so that was a very long day on just liquids and not to mention the laxative I had to take earlier that day. I totally had no food at all and was getting a really bad headache. Jello and chicken broth is in no way filling. We did stop along the way and go to Makers Mark Distillery. Stephen got to dip a bottle in remembrance of this occasion. The bottle is still sitting on our fridge. We got into town and checked into our hotel room. It was one sleepless night… We had to check into the hospital at 5am. We had to shower with certain soap the hospital gave us. When we get to the hospital we had to fill out paperwork and register. When we first signed all of our paperwork during registration, we had to sign a release. University of KY is a teaching hospital so there are students running around everywhere. It was great though. So we are in our fancy gowns and caps waiting side by side. They had informed us that they would take me first then her. So they came to stick us with IVs and mine didn’t start off well at all.. They had to stick me like 3 times… NOT good! Finally it was in and as soon as it was they started the feel good meds, and I was totally feeling it within seconds… Time to say later and off to surgery. So they took the right kidney, because my left one had too many arteries around it. I felt very secure in that hospital because the staff seemed really knowledgeable and caring. My surgeon reassured me I was in good hands. Stephen told me it was a long agonizing wait for him, not only his sister but his girlfriend was on the operating table. I was in recovery for quite awhile is what I was told, they were waiting for me to wake up and a room. I woke up I was sooo thirsty, I remember eating ice chips… I also remember waking up off and on. I also remember asking about Rachael. Stephen reassured me that she was fine and in her room. It is true that the recipient feels a lot better than you. I was in pain and so sore. I could barely move. I have an incision about a couple inches from my belly button down and about 3 more incisions about an inch long throughout my abdomen. They stitched on the inside and put steri strips on the outside. They have you up and walking the next day. Still no solid foods. I was in the hospital for 3 days. Rachael had to stay for 5 days. They watched her more closely monitoring her kidney levels to make sure everything was okay. I got home and I live in an apartment building on the second floor. An agonizing 4 hr ride home and I could not make it up the stairs. So went to visit my mom for a little bit and rest. Then finally a few hours later after pain meds kicked in was able to move up the stairs. The best thing to do is move , walk and climb stairs (slowly, very slowly). It helps the soreness and you don’t get so stiff. But NO lifting at all. After a few days at home, I started breaking out, come to find out I am allergic to the glue on steri strips. A few days of taking off the steri strips, I had an even bigger reaction my stomach was covered in a red rash and with blisters in and around my belly button. Come to find out I was allergic to my pain meds. They quickly put me on something else. And added some Benadryl to my regimen. Rachael has made a full recovery and doing very well. She is now back to work and enjoying every day of her freedom from the dialysis machine. I have totally recovered and doing fine as well. This is an experience of a lifetime and I am very thankful I was given the chance to give life. I totally encourage people to donate but if that’s not your choice at least sign the donor card and help save a life. <3