Lee Donates to Her Brother-in-Law

We learned in Oct. of 2006 that my sister’s husband, Dave, needed a kidney transplant due to a disease called A. G. Nephropathy.  Dave was raised in Australia and due to difficult life circumstances, is estranged from many of his siblings.  Of the 3 he is in touch with, one was healthy enough and willing to get tested.  He flew over and spent 6 weeks undergoing the vast amount of tests at the University of MD hospital.  Unfortunately, within one week of the scheduled surgery, he was flagged for high blood pressure.

I was next on the list.  After thinking I’d be ruled out due to my A+ blood type that my parents said I was, we discovered I’m actually 0+, as is Dave.  After having the momentary panic of “who’s my daddy,” I was assured that two A+ parents could have an O+ child.   I planned to design a pie chart when telling my dad.

My husband was less than thrilled that I was considering donation, and we had some rough moments.  Randy’s best friend had passed away from ALS when he was 35.  I asked Randy “If you could have saved Steve by donating a kidney to him, would you have?”  He answered yes.  I explained that I would have had to respect that and I needed him to respect this.  I also explained that I was not only donating to my brother-in-law, but was donating to the father of my 8 year old nephew and 5 year old niece.  It was for them that I needed to do this.  My nephew was already being sent to the school counselor for “elevated blood pressure” out of fear that his dad was going to die.

I’m pragmatic by nature and as my psychologist determined “a problem solver.”  It wasn’t so much a need to be a savior as much as there was a problem and I could solve it.  I didn’t go into this with an altruistic feeling of good will.  It was more a “oh dear God, are you sure it’s me?”  However, when feeling freaked, I repeated God’s words “Be still, and know that I am.”  It would calm me.

I went through all the testing…starting with a questionnaire, then a few vials of blood, followed by a lot of vials of blood.  I’ve never liked needles and when they had to take 13 vials of blood, it was thanks to Kenny Chesney’s “Be As You Are” CD that I got through it.  I was told that almost every donor is “flagged” for something but I seemed to be passing through quickly with flying colors.  When I was told I had “text book anatomy” after my kidney scan, I knew it would come down to “what date would be best for surgery.”

I was very fortunate to be donating at an amazing kidney donation hospital, The University of Maryland.  They are a leader in laparoscopic kidney donation.  I was appointed a team of astounding professionals.  My surgeon, Dr. Matthew Cooper;  my RN case worker, Meg Baker;  and my clinical social worker, Nina Schroeder.  They all worked with my Type A personality, and also my sense of humor.

I heard some incredible responses to kidney donation.  Everything from “you’re a hero, to you’re crazy.”  And my favorite “this is the most idiotic, stupid, admirable thing I’ve ever heard of.”

My sister and I had decided to hold off telling our parents until the night before surgery.  Their own health issues, coupled with the fact that my dad was not crazy about my sister and I volunteering to get tested caused us to not want to tell them in advance.  My dad had tried to donate his kidney to Dave, but didn’t pass the tests.  He was quite distraught that he couldn’t donate instead of his daughters.  We were fortunate that when we showed up at their house within 15 hours of surgery, their pastor was visiting.  We prayed, cried, had communion, and went away feeling God’s blessing.

It took a xanax to get me through the door, but luckily I’d had little sleep and had to be at the hospital by 5:30 AM.  I was too tired to think about what was happening.  Leading up to surgery, I was very nervous and had contacted many people on this website who talked me through my fears.  As well, my “team” was always there to answer my MANY Type A personality questions.  I read somewhere that 89% of people can’t reach their doctor’s through e-mail, yet Dr. Cooper always responded within hours.  The same for Meg and Nina.

I can’t say I was a model patient.  I didn’t handle anesthesia well and while my recipient was down the hall feeling ‘GREAT,’ I was not doing so well down the hall.  I was physically ill, throwing up, and had a body temperature of 93 degrees.  They had to wrap me in hot blankets which made me even more miserable.  My dad had to be escorted out of recovery, as I was not doing well.  When my body temperature finally got to semi normal, they wheeled me past “The Great Cookie.”  Needless to say, it would be quite awhile before a chocolate chip cookie sounded like a good idea.

I was looking forward to the great drugs I’d heard about.  This was my first surgery so I’d never had morphine or percocet.  Everyone assured me it was the one highlight of surgery.  Both made me ill, even with the best anti nausea medication.  I finally told my doctor “I have a strong threshold for pain, NO threshold for nausea.  Please stop the painkillers.”  I had to spend one extra day in the hospital;  in fact, they almost released my recipient before me as he was doing so well.  Surgery was on a Wednesday morning and I was released on Saturday afternoon.

The care I received was excellent.  The donor “suite” was nicer than 4 star hotels I’ve stayed in.  Complete with hard wood floors, stocked fridge, fruit tray, flat screen TV, and computer with internet.  The nurses and doctor’s were hands on and my “team” continued to be there for me every step of the way.   I did have an adorable young med student, 20 years my junior, who came to check on me daily.  He was as cute as he could be and was very attentive.  However, it was always followed by humiliating questions like “Have you passed gas?”  “Have you had a bowel movement?”  You have GOT to be kidding me!  I told him I’d be happy to answer those questions if he’d find me a 60 year old female nurse to ask them.

I was lucky to have an amazing church group that was with me every step of the way;  friends who stood by my side at the hospital;  family who supported me, especially my sister and husband who were constantly at the hospital;  and co-workers who gave me the time I needed.

The first two weeks post-surgery were difficult.  I work from the house and was able to get back on the computer for about 4 hours a day immediately.  By week 3 I was back traveling with work, although taking it easy and not lifting heavy suitcases.  At week 6, I was feeling good enough to water ski, with my surgeons permission.  I remember five and a half weeks after surgery thinking “Wow, I feel back to normal.”   My surgeon took great care to keep my incisions small and low.  For someone who spends a lot of time water skiing, scuba diving, and boating, it was important to me to feel comfortable in a bathing suit.  Somewhat vain, yes, however important to me.

A couple of things that I want to note.  First, while it’s easier to bounce back after laparoscopic surgery, the carbon dioxide gas used during surgery can cause immense pain in the shoulders.  This was unexpected.  My friend, an RN, explained that when I stood up the pain would rise to my shoulders.  Lying down helped the gas dissipate and take away the shoulder pain.  It took about a week for it to completely go away.  Second, when told my “bloating” would go down after a few weeks I learned that a “few” was closer to 6-8.  But it eventually did go down.  And third, I ended up with what is called an intubation granuloma.  During surgery, I was intubated, and it caused trauma to my vocal chords.  While it didn’t effect my voice in any way, I did end up with a growth on my left vocal chord.  It’s currently being treated with steroids and acid reflux medication.

It’s been 3 1/2 months since surgery and Dave and I are both doing well.  I can’t say enough about my team.  I continue to be in touch with Dr. Cooper, Meg and Nina and they are wonderful about remaining in touch and continuing to answer any questions that still come to mind.  Dave is in a research program and they monitor him closely.  When he calls to say “How’s my guardian angel today…and tell me how he’s back to work, and able to walk 7 miles and run up stairs, I feel so fortunate that I was able to donate.  And when I see his children playing with Daddy, and no longer worrying that “daddy is going to die,” I am blessed beyond words.

Lee Adams