Donating a kidney at age 52 1/2 was a piece of cake, the chocolate kind with three scoops of ice cream, same flavor. On the receiving end was my sister, Nola. We are knocking on the door of thirty years since the big life-changing event for her. Nola had been on peritoneal dialysis for a few years and was given maybe another year to live without a transplant. For those who are not familiar with that dialysis procedure, it is basically a chemical solution through a port in the stomach that cleans the blood and discharges the waste. These exchanges were taking place four to six times in every twenty-four hour period, not a good quality of life, and lots of problems controlling blood pressure.
When I was asked if I would donate a kidney, I went through some stages of fear, more from the unknown than anything. Back then, organ donation was something you heard about on the evening news. A strong sense of faith kicked in and all fear and doubts were gone.
Back in the fall of 88, I was on a red-eye to Chicago with a connection to Memphis for tissue typing at Bowles Hospital. A week or so passed and the results came in the mail. WOW!, a perfect match. Perfect not in the sense of identical twins, but in the sense of perfect for the antigens they test for. Antigens are good guys, they do whomp on foreign things in the body.
In my background, competitive running was never something on my plate. When I turned forty-three, I weighed in at 200 and was encircled by a 38-inch waist, not good and too much for a five-foot-ten frame. Realizing that I was a prime candidate for a heart attack, the stark reality of my condition hit me upside the head and told me I had better do something. Membership in a health club was my next step.
When I started working out, I could do three laps of a twenty-one lap mile. Running and weight machines after work and on my way home were my new found cup of tea, lemon and a bit of honey, please. After three months of faithful adherence to the weight machines and running thing, an amazing thing happened. I could do two miles, my weight dropped to 170 and waist wise, I was down to 34. I liked the new me. This was more than good, and I felt much better, plus I controlled my appetite, it didn’t control me. A lot of health clubs back then were big ripoffs, 400 down make monthly dues payments, and then after a year or two, bankruptcy and make off with the upfront money. So much for the unregulated free market. Fortunately, the Colorado legislature stepped in and brought about some regulation of the health club industry and put a welcome end to the ripoffs and abuse.
With my new found world of running and exercise, I stuck with it through the years, increased the amount of weight, and run farther and much faster. After the bankrupt health club scene, I ended up at the Aurora Y on Mississippi off Havana. My running was confined to their basketball court and by counting the 4 by 8 sheets of plywood adorning the walls, I determined that twenty times around would be a mile. By the time of donation, I was doing ten to twelve miles, all ten-minute miles, three times each week. Quite a sense of accomplishment for me that gave a huge sense of satisfaction.
After Nola’s circumstances changed and the transplant would have to take place in Little Rock. In June of 89, we both checked into U of A Medical Center, a teaching hospital. Prior tissue typing had only confirmed antigen compatibility. Further testing, including nuclear medicine, found a second artery going to my right kidney, a big can’t use, but the left one is good to go. A quiet peace was in control and no apprehension. It is amazing what a good dose of GOD can do.
After meeting with the transplant team, and the pronouncement that I was fit as a horse, the big event was scheduled for mid-August. The surgeon that would remove my kidney went over the procedure and advised the bottom rib (actually it is only a half rib) would be taken out and there was a possibility my diaphragm could get cut. In the event of a nick to the diaphragm, a tube would be inserted thru the chest. Don’t know why.
The day after the DC-10 crashed in Sioux City, I was on a flight to Little Rock and after arrival, stopped at the hospital for autologous blood donation, just in case. The following Monday morning, Nola and I checked into U of A med center for more tests and the transplant scheduled for Wednesday morning. Two things I remember vividly. The night before surgery, I was given four or five IV bags of three percent alcohol solution. Well—–being a teetotaler ( for the young folk, a teetotaler is one when doesn’t consume alcohol in any form) funny things happened. Throughout the night, I felt warm, fuzzy woozy and a bit tipsy. When my wife came in the next morning she said I smelled like a brewery. Alcohol flushes out the kidney. The second thing that sticks with me to this day was regaining consciousness after surgery and immediately feeling my chest for a tube, NONE, yeah, this is good.
Prior to surgery, a friend who was an aerobics instructor suggested using a broomstick behind the neck and rotating the upper body. Good advice and the bar that holds weights works better. The exercise on the sides and tummy paid big dividends.
A little talk with GOD just before surgery and all was good to go. New techniques have greatly changed the procedure from back then. I carry a scar from the belly button to backbone, sixty-four staples used to close the incision. Surgery for me was another piece of chocolate. For Nola, some complications. Her surgeon was highly p_____. Nola was a smoker and the harder arteries from tobacco use presented unwanted challenges. He was quick to voice his displeasure when he visited and met with family members post-op. He was justified.
Kidney patients know about creatinine. Ten to twelve hours had elapsed since Nola’s last exchange and her new kidney. She had a pre-op creatinine level of fourteen, and twelve hours later that level had dropped to one point five, and twenty fours after new kidney, point five. Life for her was looking up.
Recovery for me was fast, rapid and easy, no complications. I thought I could use my upper body strength to pull myself up the next morning for an in bed x-ray, No, no, no. A big dose of reality and ego took a beating, score-reality one, ego zero. Thirty-six hours after surgery and unable to sleep, I took the thing that holds the bag of morphine and the pump and started walking the hallway. Counting steps, I figure I walked a mile and a half and did the same walk the other nights. Four days after donating, I left the hospital.
And now for unmentionable-sex-for libido driven males, is day five soon enuff? Nuff said.
It is a few months shy of thirty years since the donation and transplant and I can say for me it is still a piece of cake-this time a smaller slice and one scoop. My waist is 32 and the weight holds at a steady sub-160.
Should someone be considering becoming an organ donor, my recommendation would be-go for it-and engage in a rigorous program to get into the best physical condition possible before surgery. Also, be prepared to feel much better about yourself and your place in humanity.
After nearly thirty years and a month from age 82, I am living proof of no adverse effects. Long live chocolate cake with ice cream.