Tuesday, November 5, 2019

IWSG: Thankful To A Gracious Donor For A Healthy Kidney


It's time for another edition of the  Insecure Writer's Support Group Be sure to visit Alex J. Cavanaugh  and the rest of the talented bloggers who are always willing to lend a helping hand.

My faithful support team (husband center between boys; brother and trusted adviser on the right)

                        Thankful To A Gracious Donor For A Healthy Kidney

The life changing call came late in August while I was undergoing dialysis treatment. I usually don't answer my phone at dialysis, but I noticed the area code for Madison, Wisconsin, and had a feeling it was important. I tried very hard to keep my hand from shaking, as I tightly gripped the phone.

The woman introduced herself as a transplant coordinator from the University of Wisconsin Hospital. She began by asking me if I ever had a blood transfusion and I answered no.

She explained that I was a match with an anonymous living  donor through a paired kidney exchange program. Though my blood type is B, I qualified because I was A-2 blood sub-type compatible. I was also on the waiting list for three years at a prominent Chicago hospital which never even mentioned this option.

The transplant coordinator added that another patient was ahead of me on the list, but this person had too many antibodies that would likely reject this donor's kidney. I was next on the list and my numbers seemed to match well with the donor. She asked if I'd be interested in coming in for an evaluation in September and if all went well, I'd have the surgery on October 9th.

I was in complete shock, as I couldn't believe my good fortune. Surely someone younger than I deserved the kidney more.  The transplant coordinator tried to put my guilty feelings to rest by simply stating that I was next on the list.

I thanked her several times and tried to fight back the tears. In order to protect the donor's privacy, the transplant coordinator couldn't answer any of my questions other than that he or she  lives somewhere in the United States and the kidney would likely be shipped to the hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. She told me that I could send the donor a thank-you note through the hospital, but it would be up to the donor to contact me. 

After we said goodbye, I just sat in my dialysis chair and continued weeping quietly. I was astounded that after almost two years on dialysis, an exceptionally generous and selfless  humanitarian was willing to donate his or her kidney to save my life. 

Shortly after hearing the news, my brother and husband came to visit me at dialysis and we all were over the moon.

That night we called the boys, and I couldn't stop thanking my older son who convinced me to get on the transplant list at the University of Wisconsin/Madison. If I hadn't taken his advice, I'd probably be years away from a transplant in Chicago, and it was highly unlikely that I'd receive a kidney from a living donor.

The average wait for a kidney transplant in Chicago from a deceased donor is between five and seven years and the outcomes are generally not as good. I asked the boys to hold off on sharing the news with anyone else, as I was being cautiously optimistic and didn't want to jinx the opportunity to receive a healthy kidney.

Four donors and four recipients were involved in this paired kidney exchange. We were familiar with the concept, as about two years ago, my husband graciously offered to be part of a paired kidney exchange at a Chicago hospital.Because he wasn't a match for me, his hope was by donating a kidney to someone else, he would move me up the long transplant waiting list. But after a full day of extensive testing, the transplant doctor deemed him too old to donate a kidney. 

The next step was to go to Madison for a pre-surgical evaluation on September 16, the day after my mom's dedication. I couldn't help feeling that Mom was my guardian angel, as she always told me, "You will get a kidney."

At the evaluation, the transplant team told my husband and me that even though my numbers were excellent and I was a good match, there was always a chance that someone in this paired donor exchange could have a change of heart, or get sick which would postpone the surgery. But we tried our best to remain positive.

We decided to go to Madison the afternoon before the October 9th surgery which was the eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish holiday of the year where people atone for their sins with prayer and fasting. This was also a good sign, as Yom Kippur follows Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) which symbolized a fresh start with a healthy new kidney.

I was thrilled to have a great support team accompany me to Madison, as my brother drove up with our boys. My brother also has Polycystic Kidney Disease, (PKD), and underwent a kidney transplant 14 years ago. I think the worst part of any surgery is the fear of the unknown, and thanks to him, I had a better understanding of what to expect, and how to proceed moving forward.

My brother also went to the University of Wisconsin/Madison, so he served as a tour guide. I asked my support team not to hang around the hospital during my surgery, as there's nothing worse than waiting around the hospital on a beautiful day. At first, my husband didn't want to leave, but I insisted and my brother helped convince him that it was the right thing to do. Somehow they still managed to observe the holiday, and didn't eat until after sundown. I also fasted that day.

Fortunately, the surgery was a success, and my new kidney started working right away. While I was waiting in recovery, one of the doctors asked if I wanted a shot in the stomach for pain. I happily accepted and I only needed Tylenol for the first two nights of my four and a half day hospital stay.

The night after the surgery, I was very uncomfortable and couldn't sleep. Finally, I asked the nurse if she'd mind going on a walk with me. We went on our first walk at 2 a.m. and followed up with a second walk at 4 a.m. The walking helped relieve some of my discomfort and it felt good to be productive. I will always be grateful to the caring and compassionate staff.

The hospital held classes each day for the transplant patients. My devoted husband was kind enough to attend each class with me. Classes covered nutrition, medications, how to clean your incision, and follow-up care. There were about six to eight patients in the class, but I was the only one fortunate enough to receive a kidney from a living donor.

It really cheered me up having all my boys including my brother with me at the hospital.  I'm so lucky to have such a supportive and loving family who continue to cheer me on every day. My younger son even taught me some gentle stretching exercises, as the binder I wear to protect my incision causes pressure on my back.

My surgery was on a Wednesday and my talented surgeon discharged me early Sunday evening. He asked me to stay at the hotel and come in as an outpatient for labs and follow-up testing on Monday and Tuesday.

One of the doctors told me what a good patient I was, as my numbers were good and I was getting stronger every day. I really think all the walking helped immensely in my recovery. My husband and I knew every inch of the 6th floor in the hospital, and he still continues to walk with me quite a bit.

He's also helped me organize my medications, and takes copious notes of my weight, temperature and blood pressure every day. When I told my husband how lucky I was to have him, he said he was the lucky one. He joked, "Who else can say my wife has three kidneys?"

Last week we went back to Madison to have my staples removed, and in three weeks we'll return to have my stent taken out. We also walk to the lab twice weekly at my primary care doctor's office, which is conveniently located one block away.

Though it's about a two and a half hour drive to Madison, I couldn't be happier with the sterling staff and quality care that I've received.

I still can't believe that I no longer have to go to dialysis three times a week. I promised the wonderful dialysis nurses, techs and some of the patients that I've grown close to, that I'd come back to visit. But the doctors cautioned me to wait, as my immune system has been compromised and I'm more susceptible to getting sick. I look forward to seeing everyone in the near future, and in the meantime, my incredible brother has been making rounds for me.

I still haven't heard from the gracious anonymous donor who gave me a new lease on life. I will always be grateful to him or her, and will try reaching out again soon. A few people wished me happy birthday on Facebook after they heard about my kidney transplant. Now October 9th is officially my second birthday, as the gift of a new kidney has forever changed my life.