Ryan’s Donation to His Mom

My name is Ryan and I am from Sandy, Utah.  I am 30 years old and married with two little boys ages 1 and 4.  I visited this website, along with several others, when deciding whether or not I should become a donor.  I feel like reading about other people’s experiences really helped me with my decision to donate.

My mom was diagnosed with Lupus seven years ago.   My mom and dad didn’t tell us much about the disease, and I didn’t know much about it either.  After doing some of my own research, I realized she would eventually need a kidney transplant.

In the summer of 2013, her kidneys were starting to take a turn for the worst and her Nephrologist decided it was time they place her on the kidney donor list.  Since my mom was young (56) the doctor really wanted her to get a ‘live’ donor transplant.  When she relayed the news to our family that she needed a transplant, I decided the least I could do is go and get tested to show support to her. I discussed this with my wife, and she was very supportive of me throughout the entire process.  The process of getting tested was simple at first, but as I progressed through the process, and I continued to be a match, the more real donating a kidney became.  The testing consists of a lot of blood draws, meeting with a psychologist, CAT scans, and heart tests.  In the end I passed all of the tests and they informed me that I was a great match to be a donor.

Throughout the testing process, the support I received from family and close friends was mixed.  I spoke to a lot of people at the beginning to gather their opinion of me donating my kidney.  I didn’t speak to my mom too much about it because she didn’t want to have any type of influence on my decision on whether or not I should donate.  I would inform her that I passed the next round of testing etc and she was really happy.  I respected the fact that she didn’t want to influence my decision at all.  There were other close family members that didn’t think I should get tested at all, let alone donate my kidney.  Their reasoning was simple:  There could be complications, and I have my own family to worry about.  In the end, the only opinion I took into consideration was my wife’s.  What I learned throughout the process was this decision was mine, and nobody else’s.  I took a good amount of personal time to think about whether or not I should go through with this.  Through a lot of thought and personal prayer, I felt 100% that I should, and could do this, and that there wouldn’t be any complications.  I ended up telling my mom about my decision on a Sunday afternoon up at her house.  It was a nice moment we shared together.

Once I got signed off as the official kidney donor, the waiting started.   The protocol at the hospital was they wouldn’t do a kidney donation until my mom’s kidneys were functioning under 15%.  At the time I got tested, her kidneys were around 21%.  The doctors told her the kidneys would more than likely go into kidney failure (below 15%) within six months.  Six months passed, and her kidneys held strong, another 3 months passed, her kidneys dipped to around 15% but still no green light to move forward with the kidney donation.  Then on the evening of May 7th, 2014, I received the phone call.  I will never forget the day, I was in Washington D.C. traveling for work, I had just gotten done with a client dinner at a restaurant called Brasserie Beck.  I was somewhat expecting a call from the transplant team because my mom had been in and out of the hospital that week because she kept going into a-fib [atrial fibrillation].  The nurse called and said they were finally ready to schedule the transplant.  They suggested that we did the transplant two weeks later!  I said that could never happen because of my work schedule as well as me having to coordinate baby sitters for my kids, as well as I needed more time to prepare physically and mentally.  It had been nine months since they gave me the green light to donate my kidney, and the time had finally come.   Everything became real.  I called my wife in tears telling her that the time had finally come.  The next day I called the transplant team and told them I would be ready to donate in six weeks.  This would give me enough time to wrap things up at work, get our kids situated, as well as prepare mentally and physically.   I felt bad for my mom because her kidneys were now at a level where they could no longer sustain on their own, so she started dialysis the next week.

During the six weeks before the transplant I informed my work.  They were more than supportive in what I was doing and gave me the green light to take as much time off work as necessary.  It was a HUGE burden taken off my shoulders knowing that my family and I would be taken care of during this time.  Advice that I heard a lot of in all of the different blogs I read, as well as what the doctors said, was the better shape you are in prior to surgery, the faster the recovery is.   During the six weeks prior to surgery, I wanted to lose some weight and get into the best shape as possible.  During this time I went to the gym six days a week and did about 45 minutes of cardio.  In the end I ended up losing around 15lbs and I felt great.

Surgery.  The night before surgery, I had a light lunch and dinner and drank a drink that was supposed to flush me out prior to surgery.  The pharmacist told me to drink it at 6pm, and I should start having bowel movements within the hour and should be done having bowel movements by 10pm so that I could have a good nights rest before having to be at the hospital at 5:15am the next morning to prep for surgery.  7pm came and went….with no bowel movement.  9pm cam and went….no bowel movement.  Finally as I was getting ready for bed at 10pm, the first bowel movement came.  This continued every 2 hours throughout the night! My advice would be to drink this stuff a lot earlier than 6pm!  At 5:15am my wife, mom, dad and I drove to the hospital.  The mood was good, the nerves really hadn’t set in and I still felt great, other then the fact that I felt like I still needed to poop.  We checked in and they took me back to the surgery prep room.   I got in the sexy blue surgery gown, they hooked an IV up to me and… I rolled my IV tree into the restroom to poop one last time before surgery.  (Seriously, the drink was the worst part about this whole experience).   When I got back to my room after relieving myself for the last time there was a nurse there to shave me…another humiliating experience.  It was a male nurse and he had to shave me clean from the tops of my knees to the base of my chest.  By this time, I was ready for them to put me under because of all of the awful prep work I had gone through.  Finally, the surgeons were ready for me and they wheeled me to the elevator and up to the surgery floor.  After we got out of the elevator, this is where I had to say goodbye to my wife, dad and mom.  My mom didn’t need to prep for the surgery for another hour or so.  How it works is they put me under first and cut me open and find my kidney.  This typically takes around an hour and half.  So once they get to my kidney, that is when they put the transplant recipient under.  Anyways, saying goodbye to my wife, mom, and dad was hard.  Everyone had tears in their eyes.  It was a sweet, hard moment.  The nurse wheeled me back next to the OR.  The anesthesiologist then came and talked to me about the procedure, allergies, etc.  He asked me one last time if I still wanted to go through with this, I said yes.  The surgeon, Diane Alonso, came and spoke with me for a minute and the next thing I know Im getting rolled into the cold OR and within several seconds, I don’t remember anything else.

When I woke up, my wife was with me.  She said all I was doing was giving her a thumbs up and crying saying, ”I did it, I gave her my kidney.  I did it.” I don’t remember any of this.  What I do remember is having my wife at my side, and the nurse telling me my mom is doing great and that the kidney is functioning awesome right now.  This made me happy.  Throughout the rest of the day I remember several people coming and visiting, mostly my brothers, sister, and a couple of my uncles and aunts and grandpa.  I wasn’t in any pain unless I tried to move.  I know that sounds weird, but my stomach really hurt, but other then that I just felt really tired.  That evening I wanted to try and walk.  The doctors told me that getting up and walking helped with the recovery process immensely, so it was something I wanted to do as soon as I could.  I think I had been out of surgery for about four hours when I told the nurse I wanted to try and walk.  She came over to my bed, along with my wife and I sat up.  This hurt really bad!  I then stood up… it wasn’t good.  I immediately felt nauseous and felt like I was going to pass out.  They immediately helped me back in my bed, the nurse gave me some anti-nausea meds, and I think I fell asleep.  Later that night, I think it was around 9pm, I told the nurse that I wanted to try and walk again.  She and my wife came over and helped me out of bed.  This time I made it to the door in my room, which was about 25 feet away.  Once I got to the door, I felt awful again.  I sat down in a wheelchair, they wheeled me back to my bed and I went to sleep.

The first night in the hospital I didn’t get a ton of sleep.  The nurse checks on you every 2-3 hours, takes your vitals, etc.  The next day I felt a lot better in regards to fatigue.  I was tired, but I could actually hold a conversation with someone and not fall asleep.  I still hadn’t seen my mom yet, she was on the same floor as I was, but was down the hall.  My goal today was to get to her room at least twice.  That morning I summoned the nurse and wife and they helped me out of bed.  I was able to make it all the way to my mom’s room.  Seeing my mom for the first time was great.  It was a mutually happy meeting.  There were a lot of smiles and questions.  She was doing great, too.  Her incision was a lot bigger then mine was.  Hers was around 12-15 inches long down by her hip and pelvis area.  Mine was a 3” incision around the belly button, plus two ½” inch incisions on my side (one incision for the camera, the other for the surgeon’s tools.)  We chatted for a little while and I walked back to my room and took a nap.  Later that day I told the nurse I wanted to take the catheter out because it was annoying. I also wanted them to take the IV out with the pain pump.  The pain pump was helping to a certain extent, however, every time I tried to sleep I would have spasms.  I told the nurse I’d like to get rid of the pain pump and try oral pain meds.  By Saturday night, a little over 24hrs after surgery my catheter was out, and my pain pump was gone.  I took one last lap around the hallway with my mom before I went to bed that night.  That night I didn’t sleep that great because my catheter was out, which meant I had to get out of bed myself and walk to the bathroom.  I had to get up 3 different times that night.  It was very painful having to sit up each time, however, I think in the long run it helped speed up my recovery.  Sunday was a good day: they took my IV out, and I tried to do at least a lap around the halls every couple of hours.  I felt great, the fatigue factor was lessening each day, and the pain was as expected, isolated in my abdomen area.   There was a small issue that came up on Sunday–my incision on my abdomen got infected.  They immediately put me on antibiotics.  I had a fever, but felt fine.  If I wouldn’t have gotten the infection I would have been released on Monday, instead they released me on Tuesday.  On Monday I did a lot of laps, visited my mom in her room a couple of times, read a book, watched TV, etc.  I was quite bored to be honest.  I wanted to get home.  Overall my hospital experience was great.  I lost about 10lbs between the time I checked in to when I checked out.  My appetite was pretty minimal.  I had yogurt on Saturday, the day after surgery, and soup that night.  On Sunday I had some mashed potatoes and turkey.  Monday and Tuesday I could eat whatever I wanted but my appetite hadn’t come back fully.  The staff and nurses at Intermountain Medical Center were amazing; the transplant team visited and checked on me everyday.  They all did a great job in letting me feel like I was getting taken care of.  When I got discharged on Tuesday they brought up a wheel chair to wheel me out to the parking lot.  I laughed.  I told them I walked into the hospital, therefore, I am going to walk out of here, too.

Getting back home was a nice transition.  My family on both sides helped out with watching our kids, which was really nice.  My wife and I couldn’t have done it without their help.  Sleeping was the main issue after getting home.  You have to sleep on your back and I’m a stomach sleeper.  Other then that I would take walks several times a day, I started eating regularly, and overall, I felt great.  Fatigue was something the doctors warned me about, as well as other donors.  They said I would be really tired for 6-8 weeks after surgery, and may take me six months until I don’t feel any fatigue at all.  Truthfully, for me, I took two naps over a six-week period after surgery.  I never felt fatigued…at all.  The only pain or difference I felt was my incision.  During my recovery process I had to pay more attention to things that I couldn’t do, because I felt so good.  There were a couple of times where I would hold one of my kids while sitting down, or lift my one year old up to my lap where I could feel a tug on the incision.  At the four week mark I started going to the gym.  The doc said I could only do the elliptical.  It felt great.  At six weeks I started running again.  At seven weeks I was running about 3-4 miles per day.  At my two week mark I started to work from home several hours a day.  At the six week mark I returned to work full time.

Overall, donating a kidney has been one of the best things I have ever done.  I am so glad I did it.  My wife was amazing for the entire process; especially during the six weeks I couldn’t lift anything over 10lbs.  She supported me throughout the entire process.  It has been almost six months since I donated.  I still go to the gym almost everyday, my mom’s new kidney is a “super kidney” according to the doctors.  Her kidney levels are right where they are supposed to be and she hasn’t felt this great in years.  Since my incisions healed, I have felt the exactly same as I did since before the surgery.  If you are thinking about donating, I would highly recommend it.  At the end of the day, you just need to hope that statistics fall into your favor.  There will always be a risk with a major surgery.  In my case, everything went as smoothly as possible and I feel no side effects whatsoever.   Plus, giving my mom the gift of good health is something not everyone can do or experience.  Seeing her healthy and happy over the past couple of months has been such a cool thing to see.  I pray that her new kidney lasts for many years to come.