Meet Kidney Donor Athlete, Janelle!

(If you missed Janelle’s first post, read this first!)

It took over a year for surgery day to come, but it felt like forever. It took nine months of medical testing, 3 months to schedule the surgery, and then 3 more months to reschedule the surgery. On December 12th, 2018 I finally donated my left kidney at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.

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With all that time leading up to surgery day, I felt prepared for what was to come: incisional pain, gas pains, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, etc. The anesthesiology team warned me that I would be at high-risk for nausea post-anesthesia, and they were right. After surgery, I was vomiting constantly and barely eating due to the after effects of anesthesia. As a result, I was losing about 1 kg of weight per day while in the hospital.

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The loss of weight and lack of physical activity led to significant weakness in my legs. The physical therapist helped me get out of bed and walk the first morning after surgery. We walked about two laps around the recovery floor together with a rolling walker. At that time, I remember thinking to myself that it would be a long while before I would be walking without a walker or a cane. “Nine laps around the floor is about one mile” was all I could remember my physical therapist telling me. The goal of one mile was set in my mind and my stubborn self wouldn’t let it go. That night, I grabbed my cup of water, my vomit bag, and my rolling walker and my husband and I walked 9 laps straight.

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The next morning, I felt great. My appetite felt like it had returned, so I indulged myself in pizza and french fries (my favorites!). I ditched the walker and was determined to walk another nine laps straight. When I returned to my hospital room, I experienced sudden and severe nausea and, of course, I vomited everything I ate that day. The pain I experienced while vomiting was undoubtedly the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life.

 

After being discharged from the hospital, it was a physical and emotional roller coaster. I remember crying in frustration because I had completely lost my independence. I relied on my husband for everything: going to the bathroom, showering, dressing, eating, etc. I couldn’t even lift a pillow by myself! Being a younger donor, I really thought that I would be feeling closer to my “normal” at two or three weeks after surgery, but that wasn’t the case at all. I wasn’t independent with daily activities until about 2 weeks after surgery, but even then I was still walking at a snail’s pace. My normal appetite and sleeping patterns didn’t return until about four weeks post-surgery.

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Prior to surgery, the surgical team informed me that my only form of exercise post-surgery would be walking for 2 months, but you and I both know that wasn’t going to happen. As a physical therapist, I felt like I had a pretty good understanding of what I should and shouldn’t do. Low-level core stabilization exercises along with bodyweight strengthening exercises (i.e. squats, bridges, clamshells, bird dogs, etc.) would be good for me, as long as I avoided isolated abdominal work. These were the types of exercises I performed between the third and fifth week after surgery.

 

At the fifth week mark, I felt good enough to play some light and easy pick-up games of basketball. I’m not sure if my friends weren’t playing defense on me or if my jump shot actually improved, but either way, I’ve been playing better than I ever have been! I joke with my friends that my left kidney was weighing me down this whole time and that I should’ve gotten rid of it a long time ago.

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How do I feel now? I feel AMAZING. I want to say I feel even better than I did before surgery, but that’s probably because I’m drinking two liters of water every day now. I really didn’t think I’d feel COMPLETELY normal at only 2 months post-surgery. I was instructed not to lift more than 10 lbs for 8 weeks post-surgery, and my lifting restrictions were just lifted this past week. I look forward to finally getting back to the gym and being able to lift weights again. In 2020, I will be training for the Transplant Games of America, which will be held in my home state of New Jersey!

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A fellow kidney donor athlete, Bobby, visited me before and after surgery during our stay in Seattle. After the surgery, I remember he asked me, “If you could describe this whole journey in one word or statement, what would it be?” My response? “Worth it. It was all worth it.”

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