A Deceased Donor Kidney, a Living Donor Kidney and Another Deceased Senior Kidney all Went Into a bar...

Every kidney transplant is different from the other. I can write such a statement with utmost confidence, as I have been doing this (getting extra kidneys shoved into my abdomen) since I was twelve. 

The second, a gift from my dad*, came approximately fourteen years later, when I was in my twenties.

Now, fifteen years past that, I am working on recovery with my third transplant. And I can authoritatively say that all have varied in their acquisition, recovery and longevity.

As mentioned, my first was when I was twelve. It was 1986. Vancouver's Expo '86 would be in full swing later that summer. I recall laying on the sofa, watching Mr. Belvedere when the phone rang. It was about 8:30pm on a Friday night. My dad was outside, cleaning the pool. My mom answered the (rotary dial!) basement phone. From her responses, I knew immediately what the call was about. My stomach filled with dread. 

While I understood that I needed this kidney, the thought of more surgery and a lengthy hospital stay were not enticing.

Obediently, I packed my bag and we headed to the local Children's Hospital. When I arrived, it was a PTSD-inducing whirl-wind of tests and an unfortunate experience with an enema. I was in the operating room not even four hours later. 

Fourteen years after this initial transplant, due to graft rejection, I found myself on emergency hemo dialysis yet again. I was critically ill. It was not expected that I would make it through a second transplant surgery. 

To clarify, the poor state of my health was due to the first transplant failing, but also because I, at that time, had decided enough was enough and had repeatedly declined intervention (dialysis). Thankfully, a kind social worker was able to hear my reasons for not wishing to continue on, and spent much time discussing my life and death options. It was because of this social worker's compassion, and his ability to hear my emotional exhaustion, that I eventually changed my mind and agreed to a second transplant.

This time, it would be a living donor. My dad and I would be in the hospital together for the duration of five days, with me on one floor and him, a few floors up. The surgery went exceedingly well**, and my recovery time was short. In fact, I tried to go for a run merely three weeks after the surgery. I was, however, quickly and wisely advised to not do this by the team of nephrologists. But the point is that I felt great. I felt better than great. I was excited about life, and ready to be a part of it again.

(A few weeks after this second transplant, I vividly recall thinking "so THIS is how healthy people feel! No wonder they want to be active and do things!")

That kidney, despite being an "easy" surgery and "short" recovery, would only function well for three years before rejection set in. Again, in my desire to not go back on dialysis, I pushed returning to it for nearly two years past that (this is not advisable). By the time I did submit to dialysis treatment (peritioneal dialysis, or "PD")  I was again seriously ill, with twenty-seven extra pounds of water weight on my frame.

I remained on peritoneal for just over ten years before the latest "we have a kidney for you" call came. I was not expecting it. This would be another deceased donor kidney, and owing to the trauma of my initial deceased donor transplant at the age of twelve. the call brought up a multitude of emotions. But as you know, I took the road presented before me and accepted this latest kidney.

It's been a rough road, one that has unquestionably left me lost at times. If I had not, in years past, received two previous kidneys, I would not know how having a transplant and subsequent recovery can feel. For this situation, and even though I do not advocate for generalized ignorance, I feel that the cliche, 'ignorance is bliss' may apply. 

 

*Thanks Dad!

**My dad may disagree with this assessment, as he was the one getting his back sliced open and a kidney removed, and so had to adjust from a state of health to (temporary) ill-health (until his left-over kidney started picking up the slack for the other kidney now being gone). I, admittedly, had the "easier" transition, as I moved from a place of unwellness (emergency hemo dialysis) to better health (transplant). 

Just to clarify a little: he also decided that the day of the surgery would be a good time to cease a forty year long pack a day smoking habit. When I went to visit him on day three post-surgery, his skin looked an eerie shade of yellow. But he seemed in good spirits (certainly morphine may have helped this) and has not picked up a cigarette since that day.