My Aunt Cheryl was 49 when she called me on my birthday, March 27. She asked if I wanted my present. It was a weekday, and I looked outside to see if she was in front of my house. She lives two hours away.
Cheryl had told me she was testing but that she was not a candidate because of possible diabetes. (My aunts and uncles and I are so close to my age that I call them by their first names.) She didn’t tell me that the doctors suggested that not taking estrogen or drinking sweet tea would lower her blood sugar level and give a true reading of her blood sugar. Apparently hormones given to women after a hysterectomy can produce a false (high) blood sugar reading. And cutting the sweet tea would help her to drop the 15 pounds they wanted her to lose. She went off the hormones and drank only water. She and my uncle love me A LOT. Then she retested. Within three months, she was a suitable candidate. Our bodies are capable of incredible self-preservation. If one kidney fails, the other healthy kidney can increase performance up to an additional 80%. So Cheryl is safe with only one kidney. (Because Cheryl was a candidate for transplant, I didn’t look at any other facilities. A later post will discuss the options available to those of us looking for a donor.)
I was shocked and ecstatic to hear that my aunt was approved as a donor. We had another two weeks to wait. She had scheduled surgery for April 12. An end was in sight, and my husband Jeff was able to come home from Army training for two weeks before he deployed to Afghanistan. The doctors tried to prepare me that the kidney might not work, that it might not work right away, and that the kidney could fail or be rejected. As is my nature, I ignored all of that and believed things would go well.
I am so grateful to the team of doctors who performed the surgeries and the physicians who followed-up. Dr. Roger Denny performed my surgery after Dr. Vincent Casingal removed Cheryl’s kidney. Our kidney started passing urine as soon as it was connected in the 4-hour surgery. The surgeon took pictures and shared them with my husband and uncle. They were far more excited than Cheryl and I were! Protocol is that the transplant recipient stays in a medically induced coma for about a day so that the body is still and physically under no stress. In addition, a urinary catheter is placed for about 10 days to allow the bladder to remain flat during the initial healing where the ureter is connected to the bladder. The hospital stay is generally about 10 days. I went home in nine!
The donor’s ureter (tube between the kidney and bladder) is taken along with the kidney to connect the kidney to the recipient’s bladder. Generally, the left kidney is preferred because that ureter is longer. I find all of this fascinating, and I hope you do! Another surprise to me was that the transplanted kidney is placed under the pelvic bone.
That way it is close to the bladder and protected by bone, in the same way the ribs protect the “native” kidneys. The native kidneys are left unless they pose a medical risk such as cancer or polycystic kidney disease (PKD). My kidneys were left in place, and a later ultrasound showed that they were atrophied (withered).
Cheryl had a “hand-assisted” kidney surgery. The doctor makes a question-mark shaped incision with his hand entering the question mark part, and tools going into the cut at the bottom. This link explains the process well. http://medicine.stonybrookmedicine.edu/transplant/nephrectomy. Cheryl is amazing. She is allergic to pain medicines, so she avoided most of them. And still, she was out of the hospital in three days. She was walking around the halls within a day of the surgery!
If I wondered how much Cheryl and my Uncle Mike love me, in addition to going through the effects of no estrogen, the fact that Cheryl couldn’t hold their newborn second granddaughter proved it. The little one might cause damage to the incision if she squirmed or began to fall. Proud grandma said that separation was worse than the transplant! She saw the grandchildren daily and couldn’t hold them. (Like I said, MY AUNT CHERYL is amazing!) She was stir crazy and ready to go back to work in less than three weeks.
I thought all of the disruption of dialysis would be over soon. It was, and it wasn’t. But at the time, I was solely focused on the transplant! I had a date, a goal, something to hang my hopes on. And as you’ll see, I’m still traveling this journey alongside you.
If you or someone you care about is facing dialysis, please share your experiences and concerns. This is a forum for learning and inspiration. Please share your stories and questions. What were your experiences and challenges with dialysis?