Dorothy’s Donation to Her Cousin

On the occasion of my second anniversary of donating my left kidney to my cousin, Jeff, I can honestly say the donation was one of the best things I have done in my life. When I learned that my cousin was on dialysis, I thought, “ who in the family is a potential donor” and I was it. I was the only one who had not had cancer. I actually felt guilty that I had not offered before.

Jeff is a lovely man who never asked anyone to donate. What I learned during our testing was that at his age, it was unlikely that he would have been eligible for a kidney transplant by the time he reached the top of the list. (We were both at the high end of the age range for UCLA and would not have been within range in other areas of the country.) He needed someone to donate to him directly or through a chain.

I was a healthy 64 year-old woman with grown children. My husband and I were retired. Neither of my parents, who both lived past 90 years, had kidney disease. I was no stranger to surgeries and always sailed through.

My cousin and I approached the operation like the launching of a NASA spacecraft. Jeff picked a date, February 28, 2016, that he thought we should aim for and we pushed as politely as we could. I live in Maine. Jeff lives in L.A. and was using the UCLA kidney transplant team. I offered the kidney to Jeff on November 30, 2015 and we missed the initial blastoff date by one month. Our operations were on March 31, 2016.

I had many of the tests done in Maine- 3 miles from home, but UCLA wanted to see me and I had more tests, psychological testing and a chat with a social worker in California. We never thought that either of us would be disqualified for a bad match or health reasons, but I had never been tested so thoroughly and I was warned at the outset that the doctors might find something terribly wrong with me. I also learned that we beat the odds. It is unlikely that someone who offers a kidney will actually get through all the testing.

The donor is handled with kid gloves. No transplant program wants the donor to be harmed in anyway. Bad for their stats. So I knew they would not let me donate unless they were confident that I was healthy enough. I was told about the risks many times. I was told multiple times by members of the team that I could back out at any time. The psychologist wanted to know how I would feel if my kidney did not take or Jeff did not survive. Pretty serious risks, but more risks for the donee than the donor. All we could do was try. I did not feel that I needed two kidneys and Jeff needed one of mine. As I was talking to the psychologist I wondered if donating a kidney was a catch 22; if I wanted to donate one of my kidneys, was I crazy?

When I visited L.A. for tests, I had seen my cousin balancing home, work and family with dialysis three times a week. It was a miserable existence and was not a long-term solution. I was determined to see the donation through if I passed all the tests.

The operations were wildly successful with Jeff’s numbers showing huge improvement within minutes of his getting my kidney. I had no pain. I was walking right away. Within 3 days I was walking a mile. On day 4 after the operation I was sightseeing on the Santa Monica pier. I had some lifting restrictions for a month but was playing golf with a full swing in May.

Jeff and his family have been extremely appreciative of my donation. People treat me like a hero when they hear that I donated a kidney. Believe me, it was extremely easy and I would recommend that healthy people consider donating a kidney. The list of patients needing kidneys (80,000) has doubled in the past 10 years. Most patients wait at least 5 years for a kidney and some die before they reach the top of the list. Most transplanted kidney are from a deceased person, but a kidney from a living donor is better. Consider it. You will not regret it.

Dorothy Jones