Kidney Donation: Sharing My Spare with a Complete Stranger

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April is National Donate Life Month, and I’ve always been a supporter.

As a cousin of a woman in need of a double lung transplant, I am an advocate for becoming an organ, tissue, and eye donor. As a former oncology nurse, I encourage everyone to donate blood and register with the bone marrow registry. Who knew there were so many ways we can give others a better quality of life through these lifesaving gifts?

I am a registered donor. I donate blood when I can, and I sent a cheek swab off to potentially be a match to someone in need of a bone marrow transplant. Last year, I donated in a way that seemed drastic to those unaware of the process. On Septe. 19, 2019, I went into surgery, where my left kidney was removed and sent to a stranger in another state.

kidney

I am a kidney donor.

I always thought kidney donation was a wonderful gift, but the process, something I was not familiar with, seemed complicated and impossible. Even as a nurse, I was not familiar with surgery, cost, timing, and recovery. I never entertained the idea, assuming it would never be an option. When an online mom friend’s husband needed a kidney, I learned I was wrong.

Parenting is not the only topic in a close-knit online mom’s group; I find support. We talk about friendships, recipes, style, and relationships. We have supported each other through some of life’s hardest moments, and when a friend was fighting to find a kidney for her husband, we rallied around her. Then a brave mom, across the country from them, stepped forward to be a donor.

Throughout the process, I felt what I describe as a nudge. As a woman of faith, I knew God was speaking to me to soften my heart to donate. I tried to ignore this idea as I had no idea where I was supposed to go. Unfortunately, our friend was unable to donate. The nudge got stronger. I messaged my friend, and with some individuals, local to my friend, began the testing process. After answering a handful of questions about my health, I was cleared and sent a stack of paperwork to determine if I was suitable.

So what if someone else was going to be the donor? I felt led to donate, but what would I do if he found a match?

I got a phone call one afternoon to thank me for beginning the donation process. I was no longer needed as my friend’s husband found a match. It was excellent news. Again, maybe the process was softening my heart for donation in the future.

The future turned out to be later that afternoon.

I got on Facebook later in the day. The first post I saw was on my church’s page. I attend one of the largest churches in my area. There are multiple campuses. I did not recognize the woman. She was asking if anyone would be willing to do a blood test. Her mom needed a kidney.

I got in touch with the daughter and began the process of donating to a woman I never met. Unfortunately, our tissue types were not compatible; however, it was not the end. We could go into the National Kidney Registry as partners. I could give to another individual, and she could receive from someone compatible with her. Through the kidney registry, we could match up with another pair or a chain. If you are a Grey’s Anatomy fan, think of the episode where multiple partners swapped within that group. It’s kind of like that only with less drama, and we didn’t all have to be in the same hospital.

In May 2019, the National Kidney Registry added our information. A couple of months later, I got a call about a potential surgery date. The very next day, it fell through. In August, I got the second call. A surgery date, in September, would involve 12 people in a swap. With that many individuals, I was sure the chain would fall through. As my surgery date approached, I waited for the call that would tell me surgery was canceled. As much as I did not want to think for the worst, I had to be open to the possibility. I never got that call.

On Sept. 17, my partner got her kidney from a woman in Georgia. On Sept. 19, I went into surgery, where my kidney was removed and sent to New York. Later that day, I got word the transplant was a success.

My journey did not end that day.

Going through donation gave me a voice to speak with others about kidney donation. A general lack of knowledge is enough never considered. Many barriers come to mind, such as cost, recovery, pain, major surgery, hospital, healing, and health. I want to let others know; it is not nearly impossible.

You only need one kidney.

You only need one kidney. Many people go there whole life, never knowing they only have one.

Kidney donation is not expensive.

Between bloodwork, testing, surgery, and hospital stay, you would think donation would be expensive. The only test I paid for was my cancer screening, which I get yearly anyways. Everything else is covered by the recipient’s insurance. If for some reason, you would need surgery, in the future, related to donation, you pay nothing.

What if you can’t donate to your recipient?

You and your recipient may have differing tissue types. You can still donate if you and your partner are not compatible. Through a paired exchange program, you can give to another person while your intended recipient receives from someone else.

Kidney donation is major surgery. 

Surgery is laparoscopic. Typically the hospital stay is one to two nights. The biggest issue is pain, and you are sent home with medication to minimize the pain.

Recovery is six weeks, with the first two weeks being the most difficult. There is pain from the surgery and gas pain. By the end of six weeks, I felt great. There is a 10-pound lifting restriction in those six weeks, and you can resume driving after a couple of weeks.

This must really affect your life, right?

Few restrictions come with donating a kidney. I am discouraged from high protein diets and encouraged not to overdo it with my sodium intake. I need to avoid NSAIDs, though one Motrin will not hurt if I rarely take one.

My life expectancy is the same as if I had not donated. Giving a kidney does not take off years.

I’m not saying donating a kidney is easy. The pain was intense. I relied on my family to help with my four children. Recovering from surgery with little ones is hard. I am a stay-at-home mom which made everything much more doable than if I was working. I understand many people work full-time and can’t get the time off.

The couple weeks of pain and weeks I relied on extra help was well worth the life my new friend got back.

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Originally from New England, my family moved to Pennsylvania before settling in the Cincinnati area. After my family moved away, I made my way across the river to Northern Kentucky, now my forever home. My husband Rusty and I have four children, Molly, Spencer, Rogan, and Emmett, as well as our two cats. I'm a registered nurse now doing the stay at home mom bit. I love raising my children in the Cincinnati area, where there is so much to offer. I'm a Skyline chili loving Reds fan who enjoys zoo trips, watching my children unleash at the children's museum, and finding peace watching airplanes at the CVG airplane viewing area. Coffee and humor get me through these crazy days with small children.

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