Never Too Old

My donation story started almost two years ago when my niece announced at Christmas dinner that her husband’s polycystic kidney disease was progressing faster than expected and that his sister, who was always planning to be his donor, was ruled out.  After some discussion, it was determined that I was the right blood type and I volunteered to be tested.  During the next several months I completed the testing and everything was on track, until it wasn’t.  Marty, my nephew, was 41 at the time and 6 foot 7 inches.  I was 63 and 5’4”.  While at the pre-op meeting with our surgeons, one week before the scheduled surgery, the doctors determined that we were not a good physical match.  So, I was off the hook.

Marty found another donor, an old high school friend of his, and was successfully transplanted in March.  Turns out though, that I still wanted to donate.  So this summer I contacted the team at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and renewed old friendships.  I retested and was still a good candidate, although I had turned 64 and was 10 lbs. overweight.  I started walking 3 miles a day and was given a surgery date of November 9, 2017 for a non-directed donation.

I was as prepared as I could be, but the week before I had real anxiety about my decision.  I was afraid of what would happen both during the surgery and how I would feel and recover after. I was never close to cancelling, but I was scared.  The morning of the surgery however, I was very calm, got to the hospital early, everything went according to plan.  I donated my right kidney in an open nephrectomy, which started at 8:00 a.m.  From what I understand, the kidney was flown to New York at 11:30 a.m.  I woke up in the Recovery room around noon and was in and out of consciousness for a couple of hours.  The pain was being managed through an epidural which worked beautifully.

After arriving in my room, I was comfortable as long as I didn’t move.  The first few days were unpleasant, but manageable.  However, by day 3 or 4, things picked up very quickly.  I was released from the hospital on day 5, because I developed a urinary tract infection, which kept me in the hospital an extra day.  The recovery proceeded uneventfully, everything took me a little longer for a while, but I am now back to work full time after 5 weeks, and could have gone back earlier, but why bother?

So, I am delighted at how well this all went.  I thought that my age would have worked against me and that I would have a hard time recovering.  None of that happened, I was walking the next day, I got off the pain meds early, I am back at work, and I did it all in time for the annual trip with my grandchildren to see Santa in downtown Philadelphia on Saturday.  One thing that I really think helped me was the walking before the surgery.  When I was having trouble getting out of the hospital bed in the days following the operation, I knew that my legs were strong and that once I got to my feet, I would be OK.   I have not heard from my recipient, although my surgeon said that the surgery to place my kidney into his body went well.  I would like to hear from him, just to see if his quality of life improved, but gratitude from a stranger was never a part of my decision to donate.  I am glad that I did it, I am glad that it is over, and I am glad that, even if I wanted to, I will never have to do it again.