Transplant

I have always hoped that, given the opportunity, I would be a brave person. Greg and I tell our kids that being brave doesn’t mean not being afraid. It means being afraid and doing it anyway. I’ve done plenty of things that required personal fortitude, but nothing that I would consider essentially brave. No actions taken when lives are at stake and risks are measured in percentages instead of remote possibilities.

Then this happened:

Last April, I learned that my friend George has hereditary polycystic kidney disease (PKD) and was close to beginning the transplant process. And it’s a doozy of a process. In characteristic form, he noted that if anyone wanted “to become one with the George,” this was their opportunity. His post stuck with me in a way I was not expecting. We have known each other for a long time. We work together, he made me confront my fear of heights on multiple occasions, we share recipes, we know each other’s families, we enjoy burning things, we make fun of each other, I give him the jalapeños from my garden that are, frankly, too hot for reasonable people to consume. We’re friends.

So I researched and prayed and thought and decided I wanted to be tested. It seemed so simple. I have two kidneys, and I only need one. I waited for it to get more complicated, for my anxiety to kick in and tell me all the reasons why it was a bad idea, but it never happened. So I talked to Greg, because we are partners in all things. And we read more, and talked a lot, and slept on it, and repeated, and decided, together, that I should get tested. It was the right thing to do. What were the odds it would work out?

A year later, it was the time to call the donor coordinator. From there it was phone calls with a social worker, financial counselor, donor eductor, living donor advocate, and health screener before I was cleared to get tested. I decided I was only going to get tested if I was willing to go through with the surgery. In late June, I went in to meet with members of the transplant committee, learn more about the surgery, get my blood typed, and get lots of blood drawn to do the cross-match.

Here’s what I thought would happen. I would be one of several potential donors who called in and got tested. I wouldn’t be a match, but I would be a candidate for surgery so I’d go into the donor chain pool. (In a donor chain, you donate a kidney to someone other than your intended recipient, and your intended recipient gets a kidney from another recepient’s donor pool.) If none of the other potential donors were matches, I could get the call that I matched someone in a donor chain, and I’d still donate, but it would take a while to get  to that point.

Instead, on July 3, the donor coordinator called to tell me that I was a direct match. And I felt really good about it. Scared, but really good. To be honest, calling George to tell him we were a match was one of the greatest phone calls I have ever made. Next came intensive testing–blood work, 24-hr urine collection, CT scan, chest x-ray, and EKG to clear me for surgery. The week between testing and getting results was brutal. When I went for my appointment with the surgeon, they told me about the surgery again, redid a couple of tests, hooked me up with a 24-hour blood pressure monitor, and told me the transplant committee would make a decision the next morning.

So I went to work, looking like a cyborg, and told George we’d know in the morning. Thus began one of the longest 18 hour waits of my life (tied with laboring my first born into the world). I got a full day of arm hugs every 15 minutes, dropped off the monitor at 7:30 AM and waited. Two hours later, our donor coordinator called to tell me we were approved for surgery and could do it on August 5 (2 weeks away). I said yes, and then got to have a truly excellent conversation.

We got re-matched, did more pre-op, got COVID-19 tests, and made it to 5AM Wednesday, August 5–two months after I called to say I wanted to be tested. The process was, in turns, incredibly fast and excruciatingly slow. But it always felt like the right thing to do. Greg was with me in pre-op while I had blood drawn, got gowned up, and met with nurses, surgeons, and anesthesiologists. He was there when I woke up, high as a kite and a kidney lighter. Then he had to go because of the COVID-19 restrictions.

I was in the hospital for two days, and have been recovering at home in the days since. It hurts, but it hurts different and less each day. My kidney is working out well for George. He already mentioned that it is an overachiever. We had to agree to stop making each other laugh for a little while. It hurts our incisions.

Lots of people have made this donation possible, and I appreciate you each in ways that make me teary, so I’ll save those thanks for another time. There’s more recovery to come, and lots of time in the recliner in my future. But my friend is alive, and I discovered that I’m brave after all. It’s not what I expected would happen; it’s so much better.