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
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
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.