Donate Life

March is National Kidney Month and April is National Donate Life Month. We love that April 9th marks the one year anniversary of our kidney transplant!!

Our goal today is to bring special awareness to the need for organ donation and to let people know how easy it is to be a living donor. We think the best way is to tell our story.

Looking back, a year ago today, Henry was cool as a cucumber. He was so confident in his choice, he wasn’t nervous.  He was simply loving and concerned about me that morning.  After all, he’d actually offered his kidney to me right after we met in 2012. He was O+ blood type and figured he’d be a match. Once it became clear I would actually need a new kidney, he was IN!!

Through the Barnes Jewish Center transplant office, he learned my insurance would pay for all associated pre testing and the operation. He learned that the operation would be laparoscopic and that they’d pull his kidney right out of his belly button. He also learned that he’d likely be out of work for 3-6 weeks and that he’d be covered under FMLA and short term disability through his job. And best of all, he learned that after recovery, his life would be totally normal with no need for medications like I’d need.

The Post-Dispatch writer and photographer who were writing our story, were at our house.  They’d been following us for a week and wanted to be with us for the whole thing.  Even getting into the operating room, if possible.

They watched and took notes and pictures as we fussed and prepped before we headed out.

Hours in the waiting room.  We were second on the list that day and the first transplant had taken extra long.

So we waited.  Family was there.  We hadn’t eaten since the night before.  And we waited.  I couldn’t believe how hungry I was.

And then they called for Henry.  The writer and photographer left with him.  Family was with me.

And then they called me.

We were in separate beds in the pre-op area at Barnes Jewish Hospital. We were about to go into 2 different operating rooms and Henry would come out with one less kidney and I’d emerge with one extra.

Even though I’d had a transplant back in 1995, when I was 35, this was all new. I’m not sure I was was aware of feeling…anything. The weeks leading up to this day had been strictly tactical. More blood tests, another stress test, chest X-rays.   Did we have all the food we needed, did we need someone to stay with us when we got home, who would feed the cats?

So it was when they took Henry away to prep him and I was left alone, I think it really hit.  I was about to have a kidney transplant.

After 4 years of my first transplant failing slowly, two years of dialysis and various setbacks for this operation…could it really be real?  After approximately 6 years of not having full kidney function, how would I feel? What would my new normal be? Would I really be able to eat and drink and not feel sick? What would my energy level be like?

I pondered; was I really about to go into an operating room, have an incision cut in to my belly and have Henry’s kidney put in there???

As information, due to the location of native kidneys which are deep in the back, under the ribs, a transplanted kidney is put into the abdomen where it can easily get a blood supply and access to the bladder – it’s the only organ put in where it doesn’t belong.

We had a transplant!!!

While we were both in pain, mitigated by nerve blockers and good pain meds, Henry went home in 3 days and I joined him a day later, after just 4 days. In 1995, I was in the hospital for 12 days!!!

We didn’t end up needing anyone to take care of us and the days and weeks following were incredibly special.

We were concerned with 3 things.

Taking our meds on time cause if we didn’t stay in front of the pain, it was super hard to catch up.

“Did you poop yet?” It took days…

How do we get up from laying down? We both felt like turtles on our backs and would laugh and laugh when it was time to move. Ouch!!

In spite of all our prep and emotional support for each other during the time in advance of the operation, experiencing everything together and going through the recovery at almost exactly the same pace was bonding in a way we never expected. We’d have super strong days, and then have a setback day.  And then get better for a few more days and then have a pain filled day.  We were completely in sync and we loved it!

In the US 112,000 men, women and children are waiting for lifesaving organ transplants. 82% of those people need a kidney. And while many transplants require someone else to die, a kidney transplant from a living person is as easy as I described above.  Consider being a living donor!!

Help make organ, eye and tissue donation possible. 95% of Americans are in favor of being a donor but only 58% are registered. I’ve included links so you can get answers to questions and to register on line. It’s essential to register, sign your driver’s license,  but most importantly to talk to your family.  If you’re in a situation that takes away your brain function, making you a perfect candidate to be an organ donor, you don’t want to be bypassed because your family didn’t know your wishes.

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