Yolanda’s Donation to her Twin Sister

It all started about 18 years ago.  My Identical Twin sister was diagnosed with Diabetes.  At that stage we were 12years old.  Because we were Identical, I had to be tested to see if there were any sign of Diabetes.  None were found.  So every six months I had to go through all the testing.  Because it was such a new disease in the family, my Mom, my sister and I attended a lot of seminars to get to know more of this illness.  And on every seminar my Mom will get up and ask the Speaker, who usually was a Doctor or Specialist, how long it will take for me to become a Diabetic.  They couldn’t understand why I wasn’t a Diabetic yet.  So the years passed without me having any health problems.  It was hard for me to see her suffer all the time.  Especially when she had her first operation in Grade 10.  Her appendix almost burst.  I was always the strong one.  Even though she was 7 minutes older than me.  I was the one always looking after her and fighting her battles for her.  When we went to grade 8, we were split in different classes.  In the middle of the year everybody could see she was not going to make that grade.  So the only thing they could do was to put us back together in one class.  In the first month after that her grades improved a lot and we could finish Matric together.  I stayed in our home town for about two years after we finished Matric.  Because job opportunities were not that good, I decided to locate to another City.

Then the problems started.  My sister started having a lot of trouble with her Diabetes.  Two months before her wedding she had to have a lung operation.  They saw something on one lung and thought it was a tumor.  After they cut her open, they saw it was only a bacteria that could’ve been cleared with antibiotics. A year after that she fell pregnant with their first baby.  Everybody was very excited.  I had the morning sickness for 2 weeks.  It was terrible, but I was glad I could go through that for my sister.  She was feeling just fine.  She lost the baby at 8 weeks.  She said she was fine about it, but she misjudged the connection we had.  I could feel her pain and knew what she went through.  About 1 year after that her feet started to swell.  At one stage it was so bad she couldn’t even bend her legs.  She was admitted to hospital where they found out that her kidneys were failing.  At this stage she had heart failure because of all the water on her lungs.  She was only 27 years old at that time.  Her Specialist said she needed to go on Dialysis until they could get her a suitable donor.  Our blood-group is O-negative and it is a very rare blood-group.  So before my sister could ask me, I told her she can have one of my kidneys.  She was very excited and phoned her doctor.  He was also very excited.  It took them 18 months to start all the procedures. In the meantime I took a job transfer in a town closer to my sister

In February 2005 we went to Cape Town to see the different doctors who were going to be involved in the operations.  Our first meeting was with the donor personal.  My sister went to the woman who was responsible for the recipient and I went to the woman that was responsible for the donor.  After that we went upstairs to the Surgeon who was going to operate on my sister.  She was very excited to learn that I was there to donate one of my kidneys to my sister.  We learned that day that a kidney transplant on identical twins has never been done in that hospital before.

The next day I had to see an Internist to see if my kidneys were normal.  He did a scan and was happy with the condition of my kidneys.  The next step was to see the Social worker.  My sister went in first and after her I went in.  Everything went fine and we returned to our different homes.  It was up to the panel now to decide if they were going to use me.  Because I was so young and hadn’t had children as yet.  They couldn’t really say no because this was a perfect opportunity for my sister to have a normal life again. So the operation was scheduled a month later.  Everybody was very excited.  I had to go for blood test first in my home town.  Everything was fine.  We made ready for the trip to Cape Town.  It was only my sister, her husband and I making this trip.  My brother-in-law can’t drive at all because he has problems with his eyes.  So I was the one making the 10hour trip to Cape Town.  We were all very excited and nervous.  We went to Cape Town a week before the time because there were more tests waiting for me in that week.  Because I work for a Travel Agency, we were able to get Complimentary accommodation at 2 different hotels for that week.

It’s Monday. The day we were to be booked in Hospital.  I never had an operation in my life, never a broken bone or a stitch in my body.  The last time I was in Hospital was when I was born.  I was very nervous but I couldn’t let onto to my sister.  Even though I knew she knew how I felt.  They took us upstairs to a Private Ward.  I was never so scared in my life when I stepped into that room.  It smelled like Hospital.  They did some more tests and later the doctor came through.  He said that I should get a drip for my body to have enough fluids for the operation the next day.  When the Sister came in later that night with the drip, my knees went numb. I’m not a nervous person in general.  In fact there are very few things that scare me.  And this was one of them.  My sister of course had a nice laugh at my expense; she was so used to Hospitals.  Later that night they brought us some sleeping tablets.  I think it was the best sleep I had in weeks.  The next morning I woke up and woke my sister up.  I told her tonight she is going to sleep with my body part.  She was very excited and that calmed me down.  I realized this was my chance to take some of her pain away and help her to have a normal life again.  Later that morning they came and fetch me, luckily they gave me a small tablet to calm me down, and that sure helped.  We went to the theatre.  The Sister that was in charge of the whole transplant arrangements, waited for me in the theatre.  When she learned that I had never been in a Hospital before, she said she will hold my hand until I go under, that also made a big difference.  I couldn’t believe how calm I was.  I had to sit on the bed while the anesthetist put an epidural in my back that will prevent me from having any pain when I wake up after the operation.  Finally I went under and I knew there was no turning back.

I woke up in ICU.  My brother-in-law was standing next to my bed.  I felt very cold and couldn’t stop to shivering.  They gave me extra blankets to keep me warm.  The first thing I needed to know was if my sister was OK.  From where I was lying, I could see across the room to a smaller room where she was lying.  They had to keep her separate to prevent her from getting any infections.  That would cause the body to reject the kidney.  We were able to wave to each other.  There was this elderly man lying about two beds from me.  When he heard the story, he started crying.  Everything was new for me, and I couldn’t get back to sleep.  Even when they gave me a sleeping tablet, I managed to fall asleep about 3 o’clock the next morning.  The epidural they put in was wonderful; I had no pain at all.  That day they were going to take me to a general Ward, but before that, they got instruction to take the epidural out.  That was one of the worst moments.  Within minutes all the pain rushed into my body.  It felt like they had cut my body in half.  They gave me something for the pain but I can’t remember ever feeling this sick.  I started to sweat and was burning up with fever.  The room started spinning and I just felt terrible.  Every breath I took was so painful.  I didn’t want to be a nuisance so I just suffered in silence.  The thought came to me if this is the way people feel just before they die.  I later just concentrated on breathing.  Because of my First Aid background, I knew it was very important to get enough oxygen to your body.  They took me to the Ward, there I finally fell asleep.  I had no perception of time.  My poor brother-in-law had to run from one sister to the other.  Because he couldn’t drive, he had to get a lift with the Police Services in the morning and again at night.  So he was stuck at Hospital the whole day.

The next morning the Ward Sister woke me up and said I should sit up on the chair for a while.  It was very difficult to get into the chair; I was in it for about 3 minutes when I fell asleep again.  I only woke up again when she came back and said I must rather get back into bed.  Later that day she said I must go for a little walk.  The medication I was taking made me very sick.  I couldn’t even bear the smell of food.  Even the water I drank didn’t stay in for long.  Now we had to take this trip.  Just to stand up was a mission.  I’m a very active person. I got my Black Belt in karate a few months before.  So I thought this won’t be too hard.  By the time we walked 10 meters, it felt as if we had run 10km.  I couldn’t wait to get back to my bed.  At that time I was so exhausted, but everyday it got better.  By the Sunday I could go home.  My brother-in-law was staying at a Guest House; the room was on the top floor with these amazingly steep steps.  So I went and stayed there with him.  The first night was terrible.  I woke up feeling like somebody was jumping up and down on my ribcage.  I couldn’t get up so the only other alternative was to fall out of bed.  The rest of the night I had to sleep straight up on the coach.  That was my sleeping place for the next two nights as well.  Every morning we went to Hospital to visit my sister as she was still there.  She had some complications and had to go back to theater again.  After that she was recovering very quickly.  I mentioned to one of the Transplant Personnel of my sleeping position.  She came to the Guest House and brought one of her mattresses for me to sleep on the floor. That was perfect.

3 Weeks went pass and it was time for my sister to be discharged.  We were excited to get back home, but also sad to say good bye to the Medical Team that was involve with the procedure.  They were wonderful!!!!  You never felt like another patient.  They made you feel like a person who they really cared about.

It is 5 months after the operation.  My sister is doing great!!!!  She got a new lease on life.  She also became very active where in the past she didn’t do anything.  She’s also addicted to coffee like me; she never used to drink coffee before.  Is that maybe the part of me that changed her life?  We can only wonder about that….

Written by Yolanda Deysel
East London
South Africa