I know probably better than the average person what a need there is for kidney transplants because I have been a dialysis nurse for 12 years. After I had a patient die while waiting over 4 years for a transplant, I started to think a little more about being a donor myself. When one of my patients had a living donor that fell through, and I saw how difficult that news was for him, I decided to go ahead and get worked up.
I cleared it with the nephrologist and social worker, and I proceeded with my workup but did not tell my patient. I made initial contact with the transplant coordinator in January 2021, and had all my testing done by April. I really wasn’t worried about any of the testing. I started a campaign to get healthy two years ago and started running 3 times a week, with other workouts on off days. I tried to focus on core work ahead of time because I knew that would help recovery.
Although we were a blood and tissue match, the team was afraid our size difference was too big (I am 5’2”, he is 6’3” and twice my weight!), so I opted to go with the paired donation. I try to describe this as the fast pass program- because I was willing to donate on my patient’s behalf, he got a fast track to the next living donor match, instead of waiting years on a cadaver kidney. Matches were found quicker than I expected, and in June the first half of our 4 person chain happened. Then on July 12, 2021, I became an official member of the one bean club! I had never had surgery before, so I was a little nervous, but I had a fantastic team and the laparoscopic assisted procedure went well. I had a little nausea, but not much pain.
My patient advocate worked really hard to coordinate everything, and while I was still in the hospital, she connected me with the person who actually got my kidney! That was an incredibly powerful moment. This young man had his life interrupted by sudden kidney failure, and now he can go back to college and push play on his life again. His family is incredibly sweet, and we’re still in touch.
I set a goal for myself on January 1, 2021, to do at least 20 minutes of physical activity every day. Just because I was in the hospital, I wasn’t going to let that stop me from achieving my goals. On the day of surgery, I got up extra early and did a yoga session in the hotel. The next day, I walked for 10 minutes at a time, then rested, and then did it again. I came home after two days, and my friends walked (very slowly!) with me around the block. I was fortunate that it was summer, and we could walk outside. Soon, I was walking on my own, and I went further every day.
Four days post-op, I walked 0.54 miles. 6 days out, I was up to a mile. I wore my abdominal binder and went slow. On August 10, I ran for the first time. Only one mile, but it was after a 7-mile hike. On my one-month post-op, I hiked 12 miles over some moderately difficult terrain. Then I started running once a week, then twice. There were days, especially early on, when I would just hit this wall of fatigue and be so tired. I also didn’t attempt any core work or heavy lifting for three months, and still haven’t really done much with that. The little pulls and tugs in the surgery site have mostly disappeared. I’ve been training for my first official race after surgery, which is a nighttime trail run (half marathon) on January 8th. I do like a challenge!
In August, my patient advocate put together a Zoom call with the patient I donated for and his direct donor. He was so confused at first as to why his former dialysis nurse was on the call! Then when we told him that I was his indirect donor, he was just practically speechless.
The postscript to this story is that our transplant team had us exchange contact information. We started chatting and then we met for coffee and talked until the shop closed. Long story short- we’re now dating, and marvel at the set of circumstances that led us together. It turns out he always had a crush on me but knew that nurses couldn’t date patients. I didn’t even think of him like that, just that he was interesting to talk to when he came in. And now we’re incredibly happy together.
I feel completely normal now, and don’t do a lot differently. I was always good about hydrating, but now I’m extra cautious. I avoid NSAIDs and stick to Tylenol. I just had my 6 months lab work done, and everything looks great. Donating hasn’t stopped my life at all-in fact, you could say it’s made it better.
*Update from Emily*
I was hoping to complete a half marathon last night but due to freezing rain, the cutoff times were adjusted and I only did the quarter. Still, 6.55 miles at night in January is still cool! Now I have my signs set on the Indy Mini in May (the iconic race in my area).