So, I guess it’s my turn to share my experience although, to be honest, I never thought it was my story to tell. This is why it may have come as a complete surprise to everyone that found out through other people posting on social media that I was donating a kidney to Genevieve, my sister-in-law.
I wasn’t trying to exclude anyone from the discussion, but I also wasn’t making a practice of broadcasting it either. I don’t think the question of ‘should I or should I not donate’ ever came into question. When someone you love needs help, you help. While I’m sure I’m not alone in that line of thought, the prospect of having something removed from your body – something that’s working fine and that you’re still using – can be extremely daunting. How much will it change my life? What am I doing now that I won’t be able to do later? Will I no longer be the person I am now?
These are all legitimate concerns. In my case, I happen to be fortunate enough to share my life with a brilliant nurse practitioner who was with me every step of the way. I also work with some of the smartest neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, NPs, PAs, and RNs imaginable. Many are dear friends and more than willing to give their informed opinions on living donor transplants. Visiting an operating room to witness the exact surgery Genevieve would be having proved to be educational and reassuring. I was very lucky to have all of these resources available to help me with the science, the questions, and, to some extent, the fear and anxiety of what my future would hold.
Prior to the surgery, I considered myself pretty active for a person my age. I’d competed in several triathlons, including the NYC Olympic, before hanging up my wetsuit in 2012. When I turned 40 my brother, our best friend, and I decided it was time to learn how to play hockey. We purchased and/or borrowed a bunch of gear and showed up to a clinic, not even knowing how to lace up our skates but determined to learn how to play. I was immediately addicted, and although winning was something that was a long time coming, my love for the game never wavered. During my initial consultation I immediately put the question to the surgeon who was going to perform the procedure – when would I be back to my current level of activity? I knew my desire to return to the ice might not be feasible, but the doctor put my mind at ease. Without skipping a beat, he said, “Well, that’ll depend on you. Five or six weeks, in all likelihood. The news both surprised and elated me, and my goal was set. I was determined to get back on the ice by week five.
The morning after surgery I was told to do at least four laps around the nurse’s station. I did seven. In the afternoon my nurse came in and pushed me for four more. I did eleven. Was there discomfort at the incision site? Of course, but it was bearable. The pain from the anesthesia and gas in my shoulders was my major complaint, but I drew motivation from being told that the more I moved around, the more quickly it would dissipate. On day three they sent me home from the hospital, tasking me to continue my recovery with walks of ever-increasing lengths. Every day I went a little farther, pushed myself a little more. I felt myself recovering, strengthening, healing. At five weeks I indeed hit the ice, skating a warm-up with my team. Playing in a game had to wait a week or so longer, but that was achieved as well. I was back doing what a loved after a brief delay.
I’m not writing this because I think you’re interested in hearing about low-level men’s league hockey, but rather to try to share some of the insight I gathered via people in my life. Not everyone is lucky enough to live and work with brilliant medical minds. Sometimes it may also feel like your support network isn’t as strong as you’d hoped it would be. Even with all of my advantages I still took to social media for more information, more personal experiences. I was able to connect with other donors and recipients. They may not have been able to tell me how long it would be until I got back on the ice, but each contact added something positive, a new piece useful to figuring out my personal puzzle. Every recipient made me realize how important and life-changing my decision could be. Understandable, right? Here’s the kicker: every single donor I spoke to told me that doing this would change my life for the better. Each person felt extremely positive about what they had done and reaffirmed that they knew they’d made the correct choice. I’m firmly in that camp as well. Do I feel different after the surgery? Absolutely. Did I do the right thing? Not a doubt. If I had to do it all over, would I do it again? In a heartbeat.
See you on the ice.
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