Cathy’s Story

On March 14th, 2002, I gave my right kidney to my best friends’ husband. Bottom line: we both are doing great! I would do it all again but unfortunately, I’m all out of kidneys now. I need the only one I have. :=} This experience has been the most rewarding experience of my life and I am so happy to have found a site that puts me in touch with other potential donors and/or living donors. Has anyone out there experienced being told, when you’re out in public and you tell someone what you have done, that the response is “wow! I’ve never met anyone like you!”. I have had people say that to me. In fact, I have never met me before….

This donation was a total surprise to me and my recipient, and his whole family. We never in a hundred years thought it would be me. I grew up with the recipient’s wife. We have known each other since we were eleven-that’s over 40 years. Lots of history there. I was with my friend when she met her husband 27 years ago. Her first son was born at the hospital where I worked in CA 30 years ago.

Last summer my friend and I were chatting on the phone and she was telling me how her husband had been on dialysis three times each week – four hours each time. (We would go for long periods of time without calling each other actually and we only live 15 minutes apart). As she was telling me of his failing health (and he had undergone a successful liver transplant 10 years earlier), and she went on to say how he carries a pager and was put on a cadaver waiting list, but nothing had happened. She said he needed a kidney transplant to save his life. I asked her if anyone had come forward to help. She said no. She said her parents and his parents were too elderly and the doctors didn’t want to take a chance on anything happening to them. And their sons, well, they had their own reasons for not wanting to. I had a hard time with that one. Well, they aren’t the kind of people to push this kind of major decision on anyone. She said this is a deeply personal decision for anyone to make and they would never THINK of pressuring anyone.

Well, I spent about two weeks thinking about that conversation. I decided he deserved to live and that my two close friends weren’t done being together. He deserved his life. So, after two weeks of thinking real seriously about it, and talking to my husband about it, I decided to call her and tell her I was willing to see if there was anything I could do to help him. My husband wanted to do it, but he had his own run with HEP-C and he smokes, so the docs said no. I quit smoking in ’98 and have never had HEP-C or any form of it. So, I called her and offered to see what I could do to help her husband-maybe I could donate my kidney. She asked me if I was sure….I said yes-absolutely. She was caught off guard by my offering. Her husband got on the phone and thanked me. I told him “well, we haven’t done anything yet. You can thank me later IF we get to do this.”

It took the transplant coordinator about a month to call me back. When she did, the testing began. First was the blood draw. We had to see if I was a match. Bingo! I was an exact blood match! I about fell off my chair! I wasn’t scared. I was excited. Too cool, I thought. I called my friend and her husband and told them of my good news. They were blown away! We said we’d continue on. Let’s go! I was ready. So the tests went on and on. A whole battery: EKG, ultrasound, mammogram, 24-hour urine collections, CAT scan, the BP monitoring, meeting with the surgeon, the transplant coordinator, the Social Worker-the whole shebang. I didn’t have to do the colonoscopy as I had the flexible sigmoidoscopy the prior year so the transplant team had my primary doc fax over the results to them. Whew! I wasn’t looking forward to THAT again. My creatinine levels were a positive 4 out of 6. All my tests were in the high percentages as the “team” was hoping for. Each time I got a new test result called in to me, I became more excited. My friend and her husband were more and more blown away. We all became very hopeful and kept praying about this whole process. As we were told “it ain’t over til it’s over”. So, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving 2001, the medical board met to discuss me and to make a decision. By my last break of the day at work, I retrieved a message on my cell from the transplant coordinator telling me that the medical board had officially accepted me as a healthy donor for my friend, and the procedure was scheduled for Jan. 21st, 2002.

I could hardly think – I was SO excited. Getting through my last two hours at work was real hard. I called my friends, of course. We were all so happy. We were still in disbelief that this organ donation that was so badly needed for him, would be done be me. So, I got my disability papers in order, I let my supervisor know (who, by the way, was less than supportive), arranged for the time off, and continued to pray about the transplant and donation. As luck would have it, four days before the transplant, when the recipient goes in for his pre-admit exam (which takes the recipients three hours), his surgeon found an irregular heart beat. The transplant is called off. We are all called immediately. It was like the rug got pulled out from underneath us. In a phrase, “all dressed up and nowhere to go.” We all had an empty feeling inside of us.

On the very next day, they defribrilized the recipients’ heart, and it worked. They wanted to shock his heart into beating the way it is supposed to. Success. But they said they had to wait no less than six weeks to reschedule the transplant as they needed to watch his heart and be sure he can withstand a major surgery like this one. On the Friday before the surgery, we all received calls that we were immediately rescheduled for March 18th, 2002. We were glad to be told that. Well, God in his mercy, about a week later or so, the transplant coordinator called all of us and told us that there was an opening on Thursday, March 14th, 2002, and that she wanted that date for us. She pulled some strings (she has the power to do that), and we were inked in for Thursday, March 14th. All went well with the health of the recipients heart and other testing, so at 5:30m am on 3/14/02 the recipient and I were checking in at Swedish Hospital in Seattle for our transplant/donation. His wife, my husband, and my two sisters-in-law were all there. We were happy and anxious to get this done. My surgery took place at 9 o’clock a.m. and the recipient’s transplant took place at 10:30 a.m. There were no complications for either of us. It went perfectly. In fact, my surgeon told me “not only was the kidney beautiful – it was also perfect.” I was so glad to hear that. He liked it too.

I went home on the 4th day after surgery. The hospital took excellent care of me. The recipient went home on the 7th day after his transplant. Home care is very important afterwards. My husband was able to take a full two weeks off to take care of me. And I was totally dependant on him for my first week for sure. He had to help me to get on and off the couch. Help me in and out of bed every day. Get my pain pills for me. I slept a lot my first week. The second week, I could get in and out of bed by myself and I could navigate the couch also. It was slow – but I could do it. Showering took a little longer, but it was manageable. Each week that has passed, I have felt stronger and much better. I was unable to drive for the first two weeks. I actually did not miss that part at all. I missed not being able to pick up my 13! Yes-13 lbs! Now I am just short of being six weeks out, and I feel physically perfect. No pain or discomfort at all. None. It is gone. The recipient looks great. His flesh tone is back to normal now. No more gray pallor to him. He looks real healthy, and he feels great, too. He has lost 20 lbs since the transplant. I have lost 10 lbs. Neither of us has tried to lose any weight – but, that’s real ok.

I return to work on Monday, April 29th part time. It will be four hours a day for the first two weeks. I have two follow-up doctor appointments–then it is adios-bye-bye.

I am so grateful that I was able to help my best friends’ husband. His wife has her husband back. His sons have their dad back, and the recipient’s dad has his son back. It’s a win/win situation. We all win.

I gave the gift of life. Wow.