How a Wimp Donated a Kidney
I’m a wimp when it comes to anything medical or physical. If my yearbook had had a category for “Least Likely to Be a Living Kidney Donor,” that would have been me. But my son, Paul, had kidney failure, so this wimp amazingly became a kidney donor at 58.
Paul was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease when he was in college. We had no family history, and he had none of the usual risk factors like diabetes or hypertension. What he had was a lingering strep infection. Because he was young and otherwise healthy, the doctor said it could be 20 years — if ever — before his condition advanced to kidney failure.
Paul had regular lab work throughout college. Then, one day soon after his graduation, his lab work showed that his kidneys were failing.
My husband, Neil, and I (and even Paul’s younger sister, who was far too young) wanted to be tested to be his donor. Neil didn’t make the first cut because of a kidney stone, and my sister and brother-in-law were the wrong blood types, which left me. Still, it would be well over a year before the transplant.
Given the real possibility that I would eventually be Paul’s donor, I wondered if I could do this. My first visit to the dialysis center was a success: I didn’t pass out! I also didn’t allow my gaze to linger.
However, I began to force myself to watch the tech insert the needle at each session, and I obsessively took notes. I won’t pretend I understood it all, but having a professional editor’s eye for detail served me well.
After reflexively volunteering to donate, I was beginning to waver — and not just because of needles. The stress of parenting and eldercare (for my 90-year-old father) while working full-time was often overwhelming. One day Paul’s delayed appointment made me pick my dad up late for his doctor’s appointment. After laboriously getting Dad in and out of the car and wheelchair, we were fifteen minutes late. The receptionist coolly told me that the doctor had to leave and we’d need to reschedule. I burst into tears.
Dialysis dominated Paul’s life and sapped his strength, physically and emotionally. With sessions three days a week, he had time and energy for little else.
When I began the testing, I had a full schedule of tests and interviews. After each test, I’d call and hold my breath till I learned if I’d passed. If I couldn’t donate, we had no Plan B. He might have to wait five more years for a deceased donor, with not nearly as good a prognosis. Fortunately, I cleared the final hurdle.
I was prepared for the relief and satisfaction that followed our surgeries but not the extraordinary emotional high (BTW, the pain wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared). After I got home, I walked a little each day, enjoyed a guilt-free afternoon nap, and resumed all my activities in a few weeks.
Paul’s immune system, far stronger now than in those early days, will always be suppressed to keep it from rejecting my kidney, but I think he’s made peace with his body.
As for me, I’m healthy and active at 75, and my kidney function is normal. That day in June 2006, when I gave Paul a little piece of myself, is still the proudest day of my life.
This article is drawn from the chapter “Why (and How) I Donated My Kidney,” in The Insider’s Guide to Living Kidney Donation: Everything You Need to Know If You Give (or Get) the Greatest Gift, by Carol Offen and Elizabeth Crais.