I’m new to this blog thing so hang with me as I give it a shot and tell my story.
I am 34 years old, a mom of two awesome kids – ages 2 & 6, wife of an equally awesome man, have a pretty good career going, a runner, an only child, somewhat outgoing, and like to think I’m basically a good human being. And on February 16, 2012, I will be donating a kidney to my uncle. I am writing this for two reasons: 1) something for my children to read one day and understand why, and 2) maybe it will help others in making the decision to either help a family member or a complete stranger.
A little background…
My uncle Larry, age 55, is my mom’s baby brother. He started having health problems and was finally diagnosed with Wegener’s granulomatosis (WG), a rare disease that only attacks 1 in 30,000 people. Very difficult to diagnose and unfortunately, by the time he was diagnosed, treated and in remission, his kidneys were no longer functioning. He has been on dialysis for 7.5 years, way longer than necessary. He cannot live indefinitely like this and to be truthful, who would want to? Not only do other health issues arise, but he is tied to a machine for 4 hours a day, 6 days a week. He has one of the strongest work ethics of anyone I know and that is greatly impacted in addition to his pride. Larry and his wife, Elizabeth, were there for me growing up and are wonderful to our kids. Elizabeth is a major part of my doing this. She is one of the sweetest people and is suffering from crippling arthritis, dealing with more pain on a daily basis than you or I will ever know in a lifetime. She is going to need him in the coming years.
Several family members have tried to be donors but they were ruled out for various health reasons. About 6 months ago, Larry reached out on Facebook in hopes a complete stranger would help him. A complete stranger. This got me thinking.
While on one of my runs, I started tossing around the idea of being a donor in my head. Started to feel good. Here I am: I live a very healthy and active lifestyle, am relatively young, and done having children. We are family and I would probably be a better match than a stranger. I have a perfectly healthy extra kidney and he needs one. Before even telling my husband I was considering this, I started doing some research, reading blogs and thinking, thinking, thinking about it. Here are some surprising things I learned:
- We are blessed with way more kidney function we will ever need. We can be down to one kidney, operating only at 5% functioning and still have a normal life. With one kidney, you can still be 100% functioning.
- When one kidney is removed, the other kidney increases in size and after a year is almost twice the size. Basically, I will have a “Super Kidney” (cue the Superman theme song).
- Now the kidney is removed by laprascope, reducing recovery time drastically, approximately two weeks if all goes well.
- I can still live my exact same healthy lifestyle as before: running half marathons, doing triathlons, etc. My only limitations will be: I can’t go on a high protein diet or take ibuprofen. (Darn, there goes my plans for the Atkins Diet. Though, truthfully, I will miss the ibuprofen.)
After thinking and researching for about a month, I felt pretty good about my decision. After discussing it a length with my husband and family, I proceeded with the matching test. This involved going to my regular doctor, getting blood drawn and sending it to the transplant center. We can back not only as a match but a really good one. After that first screening, I went in for a full day of testing. This was to rule out any health problems I may have that could be impacted with just one kidney. This involved collecting my urine for 24 hours in a milk jug (that was a lot of fun), more blood tests, C Scan, chest X-rays, and more. I also had to meet with a social worker, someone not associated with the Transplant Center, to determine if I was psychologically ready to donate a kidney. She wanted to make sure I wasn’t being pressured to do this and understand my reasoning. One question she asked sticks out in my mind: ”How will you feel if his body rejects your kidney?” Really? Was she asking if I would be resentful or mad at him if that happens? Of course not. I’ll be disappointed of course, but not for me. I’ll feel bad for him and think it was worth a shot.
This journey started in September and after a roller coaster of testing and waiting, more testing and waiting, I was approved as a donor in December!
My husband is supportive but is still scared and worried, we both are. I stress the “we” part of that last sentence as this affects not just me but my whole family. However, the hospital where it will be done is one of the top kidney transplant programs in the nation, has a 98% success rate for non-rejections and ZERO donor deaths. This will also have a ripple effect: by giving him a kidney, it will take him off the national transplant list, moving someone else that much closer to a new kidney.
To see both Larry and Elizabeth so happy, excited and most of all, hopeful, warms my heart. Giving is just as exciting as receiving.
So now it is two weeks until surgery day. As it gets closer, I’ll write more about my before and after experience donating a kidney.
Until then, take care! -Jeni Lind