Hi! My name is Janey. Currently, I’m 48 years old and it’s been 15 years since I donated my kidney to my sister, Julie.
My sister was born with degenerative kidney disease, so while I knew that she would eventually need a kidney, I never really thought about it. She wasn’t worried about it, so I didn’t either. Then I got the call. One day in February 2002, Julie’s husband called to let me know she was in the hospital. At the time, her sons were in elementary school and I figured I could make their lives a little easier if I was around picking up the boys from school, feeding them, you know…doing auntie things. I quickly found out that Julie and I weren’t a blood type match. Heartbroken, I focused on what I could do to help. At that point, all of our lives changed. Julie learned to live a life that surrounded her dialysis schedule and how her body recovered that day and all that the strict life entails; and, I moved into their house to help with the daily chores.
After a year of searching for a doctor that could help her with a transplant, Julie found Dr.Robert Montgomery at Johns Hopkins University. They were in the beginning trials of transplants based on tissue match instead of blood type. We flew to Baltimore and HALLELUJAH; we were a 100% tissue match! Now, this required some serious logistics, but by September 2003, the family gathered in the heart of Baltimore for the donation surgery. I gave Julie Thelma and I kept Louise. Due to our incompatible blood type, Julie went through plasmapheresis. While it may have been uncomfortable, I’d never have known it because Julie was such a champ. Throughout this entire experience, I never once hear her complain about pain, exhaustion, her strict diet, or anything else! What a hero!
Recovery treated me gently. Outside of having to kick my then-boyfriend-now-husband and his sister out of my hospital room for making me laugh, and one bout with diarrhea due to the pain medication, I had zero issues. The medical staff said that the sooner I got moving, the quicker I would be discharged; so, I asked to see Julie. She was still deeper into recovery, and the 10-yard stroll took it out of me, but we were able to tell each other we loved each other. It felt like a success.
Pre-donation, I considered myself active. I’ve always moved: Gymnastics and dance as a girl, marathons, and triathlons through my 20s and in my 30s, I found the mountains and have been backpacking and climbing them ever since. I made my first attempt at the John Muir Trail just two months before surgery. While I had to leave the trail with less than 60 miles left of the over 200-mile trail, the trip got me in the right frame of mind for the surgery: strong, relaxed, healthy, and happy. Since then (15 years ago), my husband and I have finished the JMT, are piecing together the Pacific Crest Trail, and backpacked the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru and attempted The Monte Blanc trail in the Alps.
Physically I don’t feel different than I did pre-surgery. And my diet didn’t change as I was a pescatarian pre-surgery. I still play in the mountains. Not much has changed. I do make sure to get a physical every year – before the surgery, I wasn’t as diligent about that. And I do feel closer to Julie. Lastly, she has my beer kidney.
Before surgery, I was the beer drinker. Now, she is. I’m serious—I don’t crave beer anymore. If I do drink a beer, it will take me a while to finish it–it’ll be warm by the time I’m done. On the other hand, from the minute Julie was out of surgery and was able to start eating normal, she wanted a beer.
Most recently, my husband and I went out on the trail again. The goal was the Oregon portion of the PCT – 455 miles. It was great! Due to some unexpected weather, minor injuries, and faulty gear (our water filter and stove broke), we ended up doing about 1/2 the miles planned. BUT, it’s not an adventure if you know how it’s going to end, right!?! 😀 Oregon was beautiful and challenging, and we can’t wait to go back and finish it up.
Julie is doing beautifully and still drinking beer.
If anyone is thinking about donating a kidney, without hesitation, I would say do it! It is one of the things I am most proud of in my life. While it took 2-3 months for me to get back into my pre-surgery exercise routine, I found more appreciation for my body an all that it is capable of.