Donating Right Kidney to My Husband’s Sister

I donated my right kidney to my husband’s sister in June of 2009. Beth had been experiencing slow renal failure over the past five years. She had used a mid-wife during her pregnancy with her son and it seems that they did not monitor her blood pressure the whole of the pregnancy. Once the damage was discovered, it was just a waiting game to see how long it would be before she needed a transplant. In August of 2007, she told us that her doctors had put her on the waiting list for a kidney. My husband and his mother and an uncle are her only living relatives and her mother and uncle were both too old to be considered for transplant and my husband had high blood pressure. So, I went in for testing and we found out around Christmas time that I was a match.

I will admit that the idea of donating my kidney did not come natural at first. I don’t get along with my in-laws terribly well and I was a little hesitant to be tested. I talked with my preacher and my husband about it and my dad. Everyone was against it at first. I then went off by myself for an afternoon and really thought about what I wanted to do/what I needed to do. Once I really thought it over, I knew in my heart what I needed to do and what I wanted to do. I knew I was healthy. I knew my children did not have a predisposition to kidney disease based on any family history, and I knew that I couldn’t let a little petty dislike get in the way of potentially saving a life. So, as soon as I had made up mind to do the right thing, I contacted the transplant coordinator and started the process.

We had to travel about 2 and ½ hours to the University of Alabama/Birmingham for our testing and the actual transplant. We made this trip three times in total before the transplant took place. One of those times we had to stay overnight so that I could do a full day of testing starting at about 6AM. We had blood tests done the other two trips. The day of testing was pretty easy now that I look back on it. But it seemed a little daunting beforehand. I had at least 18 vials of blood taken first thing that morning before I had eaten. Then I went to eat. I was then sent to have a bunch of different tests and talk to different doctors ranging from a nephrologist to a psychologist. They wanted to make sure I was there for the right reasons and not being coerced or guilted into the transplant procedure in any way. I was then sent home to wait about a week while the transplant team met and discussed my lab results and then they called and sent me a letter confirming that as long as my blood didn’t change between now and the transplant, we could proceed.

We waited three months from that letter to the transplant because my husband is a teacher and could be off work with me during the summer months. It also gave me some time to wrap up some of my own office work. I think it’s a little too long to wait, but only because you really don’t think about much else during that time. I know I didn’t.

We were checked into the hospital on a Thursday morning and sat around all day. The surgery was scheduled for Friday morning. I was told to be there so that they could do more tests. It was sort of strange being an inpatient “Patient” with nothing wrong with me. Everyone who came in contact asked me what I was there for and if I was in any pain. I pretty well sat around most of the day waiting and that was hard. My kids and my husband didn’t want to run off and leave me, but they probably should have since there was nothing happening until the next morning.

I was awakened about 4:30 in the morning and told to go and shower with this antiseptic scrub. I put on a hospital gown at that point and got back in the bed. They came and got me around 5:30 AM and wheeled me off to surgery. I sat in the pre-op room for some time. I was wide awake and watching everthing. There were other patients in there but they all appeared to be “sick” patients and not transplant donors. It made me so grateful to be among the healthy!

My sister in law was wheeled in after I had been there for awhile. They put her nect to me, but she was balled up crying and scared and wouldn’t talk to me. I didn’t really know what to say. Soon it was our turn. They took me first since they had to get the kidney first. I was taken to the operating room where I lifted myself on the operating table. That was weird and very COLD. I then had a mask placed on my face and went to sleep. I remember waking up in recovery and being told to lay back down and try to relax. The next thing I remember I was back in my room and in a lot of pain.

I had been given a breathing exercise to do with this little plastic tube with a ball in it and told to use it as much as I could stand. I had a morphine pump but I also had an excruciating headache and as soon as I stopped the morphine, the headache went away. I was told to get up as soon as I could stand it and walk as much as possible if I wanted to get out of there. I started using the breathing apparatus as much as I could – it hurt – but it got better the more I did it. I was very nauseous that first night and threw up a couple of times, which hurt really terribly. I felt better sitting up than lying down, but really couldn’t get too comfortable at all that first night. I woke up a couple of times during the night and did my breathing and I had my husband help me out of bed the first time about 6 AM. It was awful that first time trying to move, but once I was up and walking, the pain got so much better so quickly! I can’t tell you how important it really is to get up and get moving! That is the key!!!

I walked the floor once every couple of hours that first day and felt so tired, but so much better each time. I went to get my sister in law and she wouldn’t even try it. She stayed in the bed and hurt all day. I felt sorry for her, but I think her recovery would have been much shorter if she had tried. I was told I could go home on Sunday morning! I was so excited! They wanted me to stay another day, but said if I was up for it, they were excited for my eagerness and let me go. So, I really only stayed in the hospital two nights after surgery. That was excellent since I had prepared to spend a week there. I was stir crazy and ready to go. My sister in law stayed for a week and a half in the hospital and then she had to stay a month in Birmingham to have her tests run every morning to make sure the kidney took.

I recovered at home very quickly. I got up every morning and walked at the track as far as I could go. I would get very very tired and come home and sleep for awhile, but the more I walked, the better it got. I went back to work one month to the day after surgery. I would be exhausted when I got home for the first few weeks, but I felt good to get out and feel “normal” again. I don’t like being taken care of or needing help.

I would do it again in a heartbeat! I am 6 months out and feel great! I have little twinges of pain like a tiny pinch under one of the four incisions occasionally, but my blood work turned out great and I have no restrictions except that I have to watch what medications I take – like no Advil or Aleve anymore. Other than that, this has been a minor blip on the radar screen called life and I feel really good about myself for doing it and I feel like a new person! I would encourage you to consider the process…it’s hard and it’s quite a journey, but it’s the greatest thing you’ll ever do!

Laura McEvoy

Kidney donor – June 2009