It has been 47 days since I donated my left kidney to my Uncle Bill. My donation journey to this point has been quite the adventure full of ups and downs. I underestimated both the physical recovery and emotional toll of this surgery. I hope sharing this chapter of my story does not turn people away from donation, but accurately shows some of my good times and bad.
When I last wrote, I was 7 days post surgery. My uncle had just been released from the hospital and I was just learning what recovery life was like at home. It is easy to be the hero in the hospital, but the long road to recovery begins once you leave.
I was told when I left the hospital not to lift over 10 lbs for 6 weeks or I risked a hernia. I live alone with my dog Coal. He weighs 60 lbs. He is a very good dog but doesn’t cook, clean, take out the trash, mow, or heel on walks. All of which are things that were much more difficult or impossible for me to do in my first several weeks. For me, it was very difficult relying on other people to do simple tasks for me. It made me feel helpless and like I lost my independence. Luckily, I have outstanding family and friends that all went above and beyond to help me during this time.
My first few days home were ok, but not pleasant. I experienced discomfort in my stomach muscles but did not need any pain medication. My blood pressure was very high. My appetite was much less than previous. I tired easily and struggled to walk about 1/2 mile at most. My sleep was not comfortable, and as I moved in bed, I felt my insides shifting in me. I was expecting much of this and was not alarmed, but it seemed to drag on.
After I had been home for about 10 days I had a bad case of allergies or mild flu. I was still not sleeping well. My appetite dropped again and I felt awful. The couple pounds I had put back on fell off and I hit my lowest weight yet of 162 lbs, down quite a bit from my 175 lb pre-surgery weight. I listened to my body and did nothing for a couple days and just rested myself back to health.
By 3 weeks post surgery, I had done a 6-mile hike and was walking 2+ miles daily. Sleep was becoming much easier and consistent. My blood pressure was coming down. The weight that I had lost came racing right back, and just like that, I was watching what I ate.
I spoke to or saw my uncle daily to see how he was doing, what his labs were looking like, and what the doctors were saying. It is hard to describe just how connected you feel to someone, especially a relative or loved one after one of your organs is placed in them.
After only a few days home his labs came back showing alarming numbers. Another biopsy was ordered. His energy levels were low and he was not feeling well. Negative feelings crept up inside me. I felt confident of my decision going into the surgery, but if his body rejects it this was all for nothing. I read story after story of people donating and the kidney functioning great. I wanted that same satisfaction. I wanted to know that the recovery I was going through was worth it because my uncle was getting better. It just didn’t seem fair for him or me.
He subsequently underwent a total of 5 plasma transfusions and a round with a chemo-type drug over the next 2 weeks. The results looked promising and his labs began trending in the right direction. His energy levels increased and his spirits seemed renewed. We were able to go to a local strawberry patch one gorgeous day. It was our first outing together post-surgery and it felt great to spend that time together away from the hospital.
The good news was short-lived however because the next round of labs showed a huge increase in protein in his urine. Despite him feeling good, a 3rd biopsy has been ordered to help figure out what is going on. The biopsy is tomorrow with results taking several days.
At 4 weeks I began some light jogging and continued walking daily. I felt ready to challenge myself to do a 5k trail run and planned to do one with my mom over Mother’s Day weekend, but it was rained out. I wanted to see if I could do it. After the rain cleared, I ran my own 5k just 31 days after surgery. I followed that up just 6 days later with a 9-mile run! My body was slowly returning to its old self and I was thrilled!
The problem for me was that although my body felt it was returning to normal, I still had 2 weeks of lifting restrictions. I am a self-employed electrician. I had not worked in over a month, the longest time I had ever taken off. My walks, runs, and hikes were slowed by lots of rain. As I spent more time cooped up in my house, my mind continued to wander as I tried to find purpose and meaning in all this. I was starting to go stir crazy.
After hitting my 6-week mark and getting my lifting restrictions removed, I began feeling much better. I enjoyed getting back to work and feeling like I was useful. I enjoyed being able to mow, and take my own trash out. The old routines started coming back, and life was almost normal again.
I needed something more though. I needed to clear my head. I wanted to push my body to see just what it could still do. Memorial weekend was coming up and I had no plans. I found a 28-mile loop trail through the mountains of the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas. It was touted as the longest and one of the toughest loop hikes in the state. I began packing that night!
I loaded up my dog and drove the following morning from Kansas City to the town of Mena, Arkansas where I promptly lost cell phone service and the adventure began. The outdoors have always held a special place in my heart and this trip was no exception. Backpacking has a way of breaking your life down into the simplest of elements. Everything is raw and real. Being able to push myself hard, out of my comfort zone, is something I enjoy.
The weather was great, the stream water refreshing, the trail beautiful, and my body performed as if it had no idea just 44 days earlier it underwent major surgery! This trip proved to me that my physical abilities are not limited by the donation of my kidney!
I was able to come to terms with my new fully functioning body. The second-guessing myself if my kidney is rejected by my uncle no longer exists. My body is good as new with just one kidney. I just needed a little adventure to prove it to myself!
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DONATE TO KIDNEY DONOR ATHLETES TO HELP US CONTINUE OUR MISSION TO RAISE AWARENESS AND SHOW THRIVING EXAMPLES OF LIVING DONORS, PLEASE CONSIDER DONATING!
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