We found out when my stepdaughter was in middle school that she would need a kidney at some point. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney disease. Our goal was for her to get through high school and then have the transplant. Two of her blood-related family members went through the initial testing but were denied for various reasons. There was no question in my mind that I needed to be the one to step up. I knew in my gut I would be a match and, thankfully, I was. I did not have any hesitation – it was this or her life and I did what any other person would do who sees a loved one in need.
Before donating, I was very active. I have loved working out and playing sports since high school, so I was very nervous that the surgery would impact my ability to do that. In fact, at one of my last doctor’s appointments before the donation, my doctor dropped a bomb on me. For two years, I had been very active in a boot camp group called Camp Gladiator. There, I had not only gotten into the best shape of my adult life, but I also made a second family.
The process of testing was extremely thorough, and I understand why some people are not able to donate. If even the slightest numbers were off in any of the bloodwork or tests, there were conversations. All of my tests went fantastic, until the very end. My creatinine levels were a bit elevated because of a high-protein diet and the exercise program that I did (and LOVED). My workout program, Camp Gladiator (CG) involves quite a bit of weight-lifting, and because my creatinine level was a bit high, the doctor informed me that I would need to cut that back significantly in order to get those numbers down and be cleared, I was crushed. Honestly, this was the hardest blow. But, it seemed trivial compared to being able to give the gift of life to someone that I loved. Also, it was nice to have so much testing done as it gave me a certain level of comfort about my own health. My one saving grace was that she told me I could do all of the endurance I wanted. So, my CG family held a fundraiser in my honor and bought me a Peloton bike for days that I couldn’t go to CG. This was, and still is, one of the kindest gestures I have ever been on the receiving end of.
I would say that the most stressful part of testing was the psychological exam. I think you tend to get in your own head about things, and I was so scared I would answer “wrong”. The test was like being back in college with a scantron and my possible graduation hanging over my head. Fortunately, I passed that too, so I was good to go!
My hospital stay immediately after the transplant was, honestly, not the greatest experience. I feel like I was sent home a bit too early, and I ended up right back there within a couple of days. The first time was due to some swelling issues which lasted only a day or two. However, my second stay was around 8 days and it was a bit scarier. I was unable to keep anything down – even my own saliva. As you can imagine, constant heaving for days with the incisions was not fun. There was no real answer as to why it was happening, but my team did their best to keep me comfortable. On the 7th day, I asked them to stop giving me medications. Prior to the surgery, I rarely if ever took any sort of medication. I’ve always tried to fight through headaches or any sort of minor pain because I hate putting things in my system. I think the stress of losing an organ and then being pumped full of all sorts of medications to try and figure out why my body was fighting back made it worse. Slowly, I got better and within weeks, I was completely back to normal.
I think one of the biggest pieces of advice I would tell someone that is donating is to try and have someone with you that can help advocate for your needs. I knew I was being released too early, but I think this procedure has become more commonplace now (which is a great thing!) and sometimes staff doesn’t take the time to stop and listen. This is your experience and your body. You have every right to get loud when something doesn’t feel right. Also, having a body pillow was literally the most amazing thing ever, so make sure you have that with you!
Post-surgery, I wasn’t able to jump back into working out as fast as I would have liked due to some minor setbacks. However, I soared past them and was back on track within a couple of months. Since recovering, I find myself wanting to push myself even more. I am amazed at what the human body is capable of. I can honestly say that I truly embrace the notion that I don’t “have” to work out now, I “get” to work out. Since the donation, I have completed a number of challenges with fellow Peloton riders, run a handful of 5K’s, and made it to finals in the Camp Gladiator Games. My Games team, which consists of 3 others and myself, decided to name our group “Siete Rinones” which means 7 kidneys in Spanish, lol. I am careful not to go too crazy with weights, and I am conscious of the amount of protein that I eat. But, other than that, I am all in and full steam ahead just like before!
Unfortunately, our story doesn’t have a storybook ending. Due to some complications, my stepdaughter was on dialysis within a year. Honestly, it took a bit to come to terms with everything. It was not pretty, and there were some very real feelings involved with how everything ended. However, I would donate again in a heartbeat if I could. I have learned through this that every story matters and that donors carry with them their own unique experiences and stories. Theirs are just as important, and through our experiences, we can help others who might go through something similar. What you are doing is giving a gift, and just like any gift, you have no control over what happens to it when it leaves you. I know that I did everything I could do, and I would tell someone that was thinking of donating to absolutely go for it. Three years later, I am back to everything I was doing before. I have no regrets, and every chance I get I encourage others to donate if they are able. I asked myself “what if” so many times while thinking about donating, but the biggest one that pushed me through was “what if I don’t”?