Sharing Your Spare

Today is the anniversary of me becoming a kidney donor. 

Part of my morning was spent in the lab, where, for the second time this week, I attempted getting blood drawn for my one year check up. I’ve always been a difficult stick, so much so that the last time I gave blood they politely suggested I not come back.

Being a small veined person, I practically drowned myself drinking water for the past few days to be double sure I was hydrated. It appears my body thinks giving a kidney is enough, it doesn’t want to hand out any blood. Nevertheless, those pesky veins at last cooperated, giving what was needed, and I am home with nothing more than a few bandages marking my wounds.

And that is about as bad as its been.

If any of you are considering being a kidney donor, it is not as scary as it sounds.

For me, once past the first few days of normal post op pain, I felt like my normal self. A year later, if I didn’t have scars on my belly, I’d think I just imagined the whole thing. My one residual complaint has been that my back aches when I sit in a straight-backed chair for any length of time. Since I rarely stay seated for long, I hardly notice.

Did you know:

Did you know that while an organ from someone who has died is very effective, a kidney from a LIVING donor is much more so?

Did you know that a recipient does best if they can get a donor kidney before needing dialysis? Dialysis, while it can extend life is also a high risk and very limiting way to live.

Did you know that you can live a perfectly normal life with only one kidney?

Did you know there are different ways to become an organ donor?

Types of Donors

-Direct  Donor: A direct donor knows a specific person they want to give their kidney to, and if the testing shows they are a match, they can donate to that person. I fit in this category. My son needed a kidney, I matched. He got my spare. Without a directed donation, a person is put on a waiting list. The average wait for a match is three years. That is a scary amount of time to wait.

-Paired Exchange: This happens when you (Donor A) have a specific person (Recipient A) you wish to donate to, but you do not match. Recipient B has someone (Donor B) that wants to donate to them but they didn’t match. Donor B matches Recipient A, and Donor A matches Recipient B. They agree to “swap” for each other. 

This type of exchange can go beyond the two sets of people, to include three, four, and even more pairs doing the swap. Imagine: A gives to C, C gives to B, B gives to A, and whew! I bet there is a huge sigh of relief when that is over. (I heard of an eight pair exchange done on the same day at one of the local transplant centers!)

-Non-Directed or Stranger Donor: This has also been referred to altruistic donation. I am amazed at how frequently this occurs. Someone may see something on a Facebook Post, know about or hear about someone who has donated or received a kidney, or simply feel inspired to donate the gift of life to whoever they might match up with. Some Non-directed donors and their recipients become lifelong friends, others never meet. Both parties have to agree if they meet.

-Post Mortum Donors: This occurs when a person or their family agrees to donate their organs after death.

The Process

If you are interested in becoming a living kidney donor, you will need to contact your closest kidney transplant center. For me, that was Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. I had to fill out a form telling any health or emotional issues, keep track of my blood pressure for three days in a row, list my current meds, and so on. If you want to be a direct donor, your desired recipient will have a link that connects you to them, or you can notify the center who it is you want to donate to. Some people don’t want to tell their potential recipient until after they know they match so as to not get their hopes elevated and let down if it doesn’t work out.

Once your application is approved, you go for testing. This includes a 24 hour urine, xrays, kidney tests, and tons of labwork. Pretty much they want to be sure you have no health issues that can make you at higher risk if you donate. They also do a psychiatric evaluation. (My family says I fooled them good!) They need to know you’re not being bought or coerced, and that you are mentally stable and can emotionally handle surgery and any possible complications–for yourself and your recipient. They also want to be sure you have the emotional/physical support of family or friends post op.

Once all the tests are done, a committee meets to go over your results. If you pass, you get scheduled for surgery at a date that works for you. The whole process can take three to six months, sometimes longer. This can be expedited if the recipient is critical.

Two weeks before surgery, we had lab work done again to be sure there were no changes in our status. Then on to surgery day.

The morning of surgery, was pretty much the same as any other surgery, except for my poor family having to watch two of their loved ones being taken back. IV’s and permits signed, I hugged my loved ones and had a hard time wiping the smile off my face while they wheeled me to surgery. My son was taken back an hour or more later. Since I wasn’t awake, I can’t tell you anything about that. I remember nothing else until waking up in the recovery and finding out my son was still in surgery but doing well.

That night I was able to walk down the hall from my room to visit my son in his. On the second post op day, I was discharged home with instructions to take it easy for two weeks, and not lift anything heavy for six months to help prevent hernias. I didn’t need anything stronger than Tylenol within four days of surgery and I recovered quickly, so quickly I was riding roller coasters with my grandson six weeks later.

Considerations

Not everyone is complication free. Since only those who pass the health tests are allowed to donate, the risks are minimal. As with any surgery, there are still risks. 

-Some people have much more pain, or some other complication. 

-Fatigue for months is common. While the recipient has dramatically improved kidney function and feels more energetic, the donor’s body has to adjust to one kidney, plus that remaining kidney will grow up to 50% larger during that first year post donation. Pretty amazing, but fatiguing,

-Not all employers pay for extended time off, so if you do have complications, it may cause financial difficulty.

-There is a slightly higher risk of kidney disease—think about it. You only have one, so while one is more than enough, that one has to be protected from medications and diseases that can harm it. This means limited use of Aspirin, Motrin, or other NSAIDs, as well as care with which antibiotics and herbs, etc. are ingested. Donors need to stay in touch with their team to clear what is good and what is not good for them to take. High blood pressure and diabetes can damage the remaining kidney, so it’s important to monitor your health and take care of yourself. There’s no spare to help buffer.

For me, and for most donors I’ve talked to, there is no regret.

So here’s to celebrating another year of life, not just mine, but my son’s. There’s so much worth smiling about.

What do you think about being a living donor and giving someone else the gift of life? Tell me in the comments below, I would love to hear your story.

8 thoughts

  1. What a heartwarming story! Thanks for all the details. I had no idea of the process! What a beautiful thing you did for your son!

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  2. Thank you for your comment. I am so glad to hear you and your sister are doing well. Praying for many more years of good kidney function. It has been such a crazy year! Trying to balance living with reasonable caution without letting fear take over is a challenge. I babysit my son’s daughter, so whatever I am exposed to, will make its way to him. Plan: Daily surrender to the One who made us, and pleading for wisdom to make good choices.

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