Kelly’s Story

My name is Kelly. I’m 42 yeas old and one month ago today I donated a kidney through the laparoscopic surgery technique at University Hospital in Denver, Co. Before the surgery, my recipient, Tina, and her husband, Tim, gave me several articles from “Transplant News”. These articles were written by donors and provided me with information about what to expect throughout the surgery and recovery process. Since laparoscopic kidney donations are still not all that common, I hope this information may also be of benefit to others going through the organ donation process.

Events leading up to the surgery were eventful and emotional, but Tina, Tim, and I (along with our families, friends, and of course the awesome medical staff from University Hospital in Denver) made a good team. Medical tests seemed rather simple and noninvasive for me…several blood draws, 2 24-hour pee tests, etc. My final test was like a MRI for the kidney. I had to drink lots of fluid and then was given a diuretic before they placed me in the MRI tube and told to not move for thirty minutes. Oh yea, I was ready to sprint off the table at the end of that test! My transplant coordinator (Yeah Joan!) and the docs were great at answering all of my questions and making the testing process simple for me.

With surgery scheduled for Wednesday, November 28th, I went to Denver on Monday night (26th), had a few more tests on Tuesday, and arrived at the hospital at 6:00am Wed for surgery. Tina was already in the hospital but arrived in pre-op shortly after me and we all had a great time taking pictures and showing off our matching socks (to make sure the doctors knew WE were together!) About 7:30am I was rolled off to surgery, while Tina waited another hour for her surgery to begin. My procedure took approximately two and a half hours and all went smoothly for both Tina and me. The kidney began working immediately! For those of you who need a visual… I ended up with two one inch camera holes on my left side and one four inch vertical incision from below to above my belly button (kind of right on my zipper line). Due to some complications, I had to stay in recovery about four hours and then was transferred to a room. Tina and I had requested to be roomies and were told that after the first 24 hours they would make the switch for us, but that in the first day we would be separated.

I must admit that in the first three days, I was not exactly the “poster child.” I really had trouble managing my pain and can only sum it up as pretty darn miserable. However, after that first day, they moved Tina and me into the same room and that helped me tremendously, since she was doing so well. Our families and the nursing staff had us up and walking 24 hours after surgery. We walked several times a day and I must say that Tina was zipping circles around me the whole time. She did great and was supportive throughout my time in the hospital, although I know it was hard for her to see me in pain. Day four was my turning point and after that each day was a dramatic improvement. Surgery was on a Wednesday and I left the hospital on Saturday morning. Since I needed follow-up appointments, I could not leave Denver for a week so went to a hotel/kitchenette we had rented and got settled in. Although I could take showers and move about on my own, friends and family were invaluable cooking for me and just generally helping out. I took short walks (half mile to a mile) several times a day on Saturday/Sunday/Monday. Tina was dismissed on Monday afternoon and we had a celebratory dinner in the hotel before I left to return home on Tuesday. Mom and I broke up the seven hour car ride home by stopping to stay with cousins half way through the trip. The only drawback to that stop was that I spent the evening practically busting my stitches with laughter and too much good food. In brief, my recovering can be summed up like this…first three days were tough. After that, it was what I had expected. Lots of torso soreness (difficulty sitting up, rolling over, bending, etc.) Walking was actually a pain reliever. Movement helped tremendously and I did not need any pain meds after four days. At one week post surgery, I was walking a mile a day, and doing very modified and supported yoga, but sneezes and coughs were my arch enemies. At two weeks I was doing the “after surgery shuffle” on cross country skis and returned to work part time but naps were still essential. At three weeks, I was wearing regular clothes with comfort, began swimming again and the work routine was “do-able” but energy level was not quite back to normal. Four weeks after surgery I am just a little sore but “pain” is gone, my appetite is back, I don’t need naps, and today I back-country skied up to 12,500ft and got up laughing at my first head digger. Carrying heavy weight seems to be my only limitation at this point. Once the holidays pass, I will be back at work full swing. Tina is doing great and we continue to celebrate daily.

On the practical side, my tips would be:

1. Considering a kidney donation? Go For It…What an awesome experience!

2. Ask your medical team every question you can think of…even the hard ones. Keep lines of communication with your recipient open. Tina/Tim came to all of my appointments and heard all of my questions and the answers I got.

3. We were advised that the recipient would do much better in the first week after surgery than the donor. That was true for me. She was lapping circles around me and eating egg rolls and french fries while I still couldn’t look a spoonful of oatmeal in the eye. So what! I knew I’d be fine, it was fun to see Tina doing well, and I was glad we roomed together and helped each other through the process.

4. Family and friends were invaluable. Involve them in the process. However, only allow people who won’t make you laugh to visit you in the first week! Also, it’s great to have loved ones around in the hospital, but never hesitate to say, “Go chat amongst yourselves, I gotta take a nap. Bye bye.”

5. I live alone and having my mom (or anyone who can help) around for the first few days after I arrived home was a big help since I was not supposed to drive or lift.

6. Clothing…since I had a laparoscopic incision, tight clothing (including elastic waists) was very uncomfortable. Slip on shoes were a must the first week so I didn’t have to bend over.

7. If you live away from the city where you are to have surgery, ask about needing to make plans for the time after you get dismissed from the hospital but before you can leave the city.

8. I was really glad we split up the car ride home. After one week, a seven hour ride in one day would have been really tough.

9. In moderation, exercise and movement were essential. Walking was easiest, along with simple yoga until I could start swimming again.

10. Feel free to contact me if you have questions about being a donor.