In Short: A Privilege.
I noticed a fellow soldier I worked with wasn’t feeling well. Eventually the reason was revealed: he had kidney failure and would soon need dialysis. This tough-as-nails combat veteran was still at work every day despite his nausea and fatigue. But no one in his family was compatible. For an unknown reason, it popped in my head that he could have one of my kidneys. I didn’t need my spare. One is plenty.
When I finally approached him, he was hesitant. Recipient acceptance is a stumbling block to kidney donation by a non-relative. He was worried that my health would suffer. I reminded him that I was very healthy, and explained that my parents donated their bodies to science. Donation was normal for my family. After thinking about it quite a while, he finally accepted my offer.
Next came lots of testing. First was blood and urine testing to make sure that my kidney was compatible, my health was good, and my blood didn’t have any diseases that could hurt him. I had never been pregnant, so that meant the antibodies that could have formed then would not be a problem.
Next was a complete physical including electrocardiogram, treadmill test, and chest x-ray. After that followed a kidney ultrasound and arteriogram. The surgeons could see all the blood vessels for each kidney and decide which would be better to remove. Finally, we each met independently with the transplant team, including the team’s psychologist, who makes sure you are fully informed and donating willingly. Thankfully, everything checked out, and they approved the transplant. My left kidney would go to a new home.
We had to wait several weeks to fit into their schedule. Then there was one final test, the crossmatch. They simultaneously drew blood from us and quickly mixed it together to see whether his antibodies would attack mine. They did not. The transplant was a “go.”
Finally, the day arrived. I went through the typical pre-op undressing, having an I.V. started, and getting onto the gurney. My operation was a hand-assisted laparoscopic left nephrectomy (kidney removal). They gave me spinal anesthesia and mild general anesthesia. The surgeon made two small abdominal incisions for his scopes, one near my left ribs and one in the left lower abdomen. He made a larger third incision, where his hand could go in, vertically below my belly button. After he clipped the blood vessels, he cut the kidney loose, placed it in a small bag, and pulled it out by hand.
Then came a different surgeon’s job: installing my now-former kidney into my co-worker.
Waking up soon after, I was ready to go, but they made me stay in bed for a day. Feeling good, I just caught up on reading magazines. I had a urinary catheter in overnight so that I would stay in bed, and an I.V. for pain medicine, though I didn’t need any.
The next morning they took out the catheter, and I walked straight to the recipient’s room to show him I was fine. I found him eagerly eating breakfast for the first time in months. The nausea was gone already. My kidney, now inside him, was working great and cleansing his blood. We both went home doing well.
This year marks twenty years my kidneys have lived apart. Both are doing just fine, as do the bodies in which they reside. Having the health and opportunity to donate a kidney that gave another person his life back was truly a privilege.
A Donor is remaining anonymous because it’s about the donation, not her. She is a retired soldier who still tries to serve, and is one of the Red Cross’s Heroes for Babies, a small group of donors whose blood can be used for babies and others with a compromised immune system. If you can, donate!
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