Tara Donates to Her Brother

My brother, Tracy was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure when he was five years old  As I wouldn’t be around until three years later, you could say that my journey as a donor started before I was even born.

Even as I child, I knew that there was something different about my brother. Tracy went to Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis twice a year until he was 18 years old. I tagged along  to many doctors appointments with the “stinky jug” in tow.  I didn’t realize the severity of these doctors appointments; I just knew that we’d be in the car for a long time, and I’d be eating at Gray Brothers.

Tracy started going to the University of Louisville/Jewish Hospital when he was too old for Riley’s.  This group would be a part of his life for many years to come.

When Tracy was 22, he started dialysis.  Our siblings, Curt, Brad and Christy, were tested to see if one of them would be a viable donor.  I was 14 at the time and they tried to test me for future reference. I fainted when they tried to draw blood. It wouldn’t be the last time that happened.  Our oldest brother, Curt, ended up being a half match and the donor.  His kidney lasted nearly 22 years.

In October 2009, I went to an appointment with Tracy and found out that Curt’s kidney was at 16% function.  Another donor was going to be needed. Tracy learned that before testing could start, he would need to lose a minimum of 30 pounds. Knowing that I might be the potential donor, I decided to take care of myself and also get my weight to a healthy point.

In between Tracy’s appointment and the donor testing date, we lost our Mother to heart disease in December 2009. As a family, we promised Mom we would take care of Tracy. Even though testing had not started, I knew in my heart that I would be the donor.

Tracy and I continued to lose weight and we started the donor match testing in March 2010.  I was a full match.  We dealt with a few bumps in the road with social workers that felt we needed to grieve over our Mother more before going through the donor process. After we threatened to go to a different hospital, the transplant was scheduled for June 30, 2010.

Even though I had the support of my husband, Jim, I never really asked if he was okay with my decision.  I think part of me felt that this decision was made for me the day I was born.  That it was beyond me and him.  In retrospect, while the outcome wouldn’t have been different, I feel I should have discussed everything with him more.

On Wednesday, the day of the surgery, Jim and I arrived at the hospital shortly before 9 a.m.  My surgery was to start at 10 a.m.  After they had me prepped, a cadaver donor came in with two viable kidneys and two transplant list recipients were called.  This took precedence over our situation, so our surgeries were delayed until 6 p.m. that night.  I must have been pretty drugged, because I don’t remember much of that day.  The surgery went well and my kidney started functioning for Tracy right away, but due to the two earlier unexpected transplants, there were no hospital rooms available in the kidney transplant area.

Late Thursday morning I got a room in the heart wing. They didn’t seem to know what to do with me. They followed a heart patient protocol on me instead of a kidney donor protocol.  I woke up without the promised morphine pump for pain, and there was a considerable amount of that.  After a little persuasion, I was given my cell phone. I made calls to get meds and posted on Facebook. At least that’s what I was told. My efforts must have worked because I finally got additional pain meds, and I was able to get a little rest.  Unfortunately the heart nurses didn’t know they were supposed to have me up and walking in order for me to go home the next day.

Jim had to return back to Indianapolis Thursday afternoon for work.  I don’t recall much of anything from that day. Friday morning wasn’t much better, but my cousin brought me a tall non-fat chai, and I think that really helped me bounce back.  By Friday evening I was walking quite a bit.

Tracy didn’t get a room in the transplant wing until Thursday evening.  He was feeling good, and doing much better than me.  We finally got to see each other on Friday evening, after much begging and pleading with the nurses to figure out the logistics of getting me from the heart wing to the transplant wing and back.  You’d have thought they were planning a take over of a small country.

I was released on Saturday and Curt came to take me to Tracy’s house.  Brad picked Tracy up from the hospital on Sunday.  I spent a week at Tracy’s house after my release so I could recover without the aid/interruption of our 4 cats.  I think this helped both Tracy and I to see each other doing well.  Curt, Brad, and Christy took care of us, along with many visits from friends and family.

Being the glutton for punishment I am, I went back to work just 2 weeks after the surgery.  I was trying for a promotion and felt I needed to be there to get it.  Looking back, I should have stayed home for 4-5 weeks.  While I feel my recovery has gone well, I think that going back to work slowed down the healing process.

At this point, nearly a year post-op, I am not quite 100%.  I’m trying to exercise, but I find that I have pains in my left side.  I think it’s just the scar tissue stretching since it’s not a constant pain.  It’s  more annoying than anything.

I don’t know what the future holds for my health, but I don’t feel that my donation has compromised me in any way.  I don’t regret helping my brother, and feel that as a result of this surgery, my siblings and I are much closer.