On Ice

I have never been good at waiting.

The day following my visit to my internist and blood work, I called the transplant unit to verify they had received my blood typing results. Again, I was told I would be re-assigned a donor coordinator soon. My blood type was compatible with my uncle. I already knew my blood type was compatible from my aunt, but it was good to hear it officially. (One of the first things a recipient learns is what blood types are and are not compatible!) They verified my testing dates were scheduled for Monday, March 23 and Tuesday, March 24, 2015. In many cases, as it was with the two prior potential donors for my uncle, testing can be spread out over months. In my case, because I lived out-of-state, they offered me the option of two days of testing, which I accepted. Honestly, testing over any long period of time would have driven me crazy! My personality is lets just get it done and over with. Truthfully, my uncle might not have months.

I waited ten days with no word from the transplant unit.                                                           I knew I was being assigned a new donor coordinator. I knew I had testing dates. The promised packet of information never arrived. I called the transplant unit again, to discover I had indeed been assigned  a new coordinator named, Cody. My call was transferred to her office and much to my surprise she answered. She was surprised that I had received no packet, nor had I been contacted. She commented that my dates for testing were set and time was being wasted. I knew we were going to get along right then! She decided to overnight me everything as we had one week before leaving home for three weeks of travel, ending our travels at the hospital for my testing. Included in the packet of information, were several things that needed to be returned before I arrived. Included was also a 24 hour urine kit, that had to begin and end at specified times, kept on ice, and delivered to the lab the morning testing began. The weekend prior to my testing beginning on Monday, my nephew was getting married in Alabama. We had a big laugh when she told me go, have fun, and aren’t we glad you are being tested to donate a kidney instead of a liver! Cody had a wonderful way of relating and a grand sense of humor. My faith in her was sealed the next day when a big box was delivered!

Off my husband and I went with a big cooler:)  driving from Alabama  to Jackson, MS. I drank copious amounts of water, we would stop, and I would go dashing into a bathroom with my big, beautiful tote bag concealing my big jug:)  and then dash back to the car and throw the jug on ice! I’m not sure if we had been stopped for speeding, anyone would have believed our story!

Once we arrived in Jackson, we went our separate ways. My husband returned home and I chose to go through the testing alone, in order to save his vacation days for the actual transplant. Truthfully, it was the best decision. Having checked beforehand, I knew there was no sedation involved in any of the testing, therefore no need of a driver. I really saw no reason  to have anyone along to just sit and wait all day, for two days. When you really need someone is afterward the transplant. It is a long and exhausting process. I stayed near the hospital and knew the process would be grueling and about endurance!

Testing and More Testing

Day one of testing finally arrived. My day began at 7:30 am, in the lab.  I was finally able to rid myself of the big, cold, full jug and None too soon!  As I walked into the lab with my huge tote bag carrying not only “the jug”, but also everything I thought I might need, the phlebotomist laughed and said, “Unload the bag.” When she saw that my jug was full, she smiled brightly and said, “Oh child, you did good!” She seemed quite pleased with me and the humor of driving across state lines with a jug in a cooler burst out of me in a story that made her call over other lab employees, so we could all laugh together. It was a really good way to start my nervous and somewhat embarrassed day. I soon learned that nothing about kidneys or bodily functions seemed to bother anyone. When I looked through the open doorway to the back of the lab, there was a whole other room I was oblivious to at first. There was a neat row of big jugs lining a counter top and rows of nurses, techs and pathologists peering through microscopes. Just the beginning of another normal day in the world of transplantation!

My time in the lab took a good bit of time, in part because I was learning my way around checking in. At least, thirty minutes was wasted searching for my information in the computer. The first thing I learned was you always checked in with the same phrase, “Hi, my name is Kathy and I am going to be (I hope) a kidney donor.” This immediately clues them to ask if you know your recipient. The majority of kidney donors know their recipient, most often a family member, and this is called a directed donation. However, the donors I really admire are those who do not! This is a non-directed donation or an altruistic donor. Wow! I gave my uncle’s name and voile’ there was all my information. As a donor, you incur Zero medical cost! The recipient incurs all cost. My uncle’s insurance had already approved him for a transplant, therefore paid all costs in the search for a donor. I was the third person to go through testing for him. Once I figured out I was to give his name for insurance purposes, each time I went to the transplant center became quicker.

My first visit to the lab, I gave eighteen vials of blood, which took two sticks as the first try clotted off and refused to give any more blood, as if to say, “Enough already!” I had to give yet another urine sample. I don’t know every test run on all that blood. I do know it included general chemistries, complete blood counts, basic metabolic panels, kidney functions,  liver functions, pancreatic functions, several blood disorders, multiple drugs testing, AIDS testing, all hepatitis testing, tissue typing, cross matching and several viruses. One of the virus checks would turn out to be a bigger deal than even the specialists with all their degrees and years of experience, would suspect.

Tissue typing, cross matching and antibody screening are considered part of the Histocompatibility testing performed to predict the compatibility between a living donor or a deceased donor organ and a potential recipient. Rejection of the transplanted organ is less likely to occur when the donor and the recipient tissues are closely matched. (Taken from: University Transplant Living Kidney Donor Education Book) Chances of rejection are somewhat higher with deceased donor organs than with living donor organs. Living kidney donation is preferable over deceased donor organs.

In tissue typing, the blood test checks the tissue match between six codes on the transplant recipient and your white blood cells. The more matches found, the better chance the transplant will be successful, long-term. My uncle and I were a perfect match! This was our first miracle! Tissue typing is repeated days before surgery. In our case, it was repeated two days before surgery.

Crossmatching determines how the recipient will react to your organ. This determined how my uncle’s body would react to my kidney. At this point, I had learned it was Very important to understand the difference between a “positive match” and a “negative match.” In my opinion, it is backwards! Positive is bad and negative is good. A positive crossmatch means your organ will not match the recipient, you are not compatible. The recipient has certain antibodies, a protein substance, which immediately reacts against donor cells causing the donated organ to be rejected. A negative crossmatch means your organ is a match and compatible. It is not necessary to be perfect matches for a transplant to take place, but the closer you are, the better.  I remember holding my breath, so afraid of what this blood test would reveal. Our second miracle! We were compatible. These two miracles were just that! Repeatedly we heard that we were perfect matches! What makes the statistical odds of this happening is we are not related by blood. To be so perfectly compatible is rarely seen outside of blood lines. Later, more in-depth code matching would occur and once again we were perfectly matched, beyond the original six codes tested. Crossmatching to me is the most amazing thing. It can be wonderful as in our case, but it can also be heart breaking. Two days prior to surgery we were again crossmatched. We again matched perfectly. The morning of surgery we were yet again crossmatched and again perfectly matched. There is a strange phenomenon that can happen and my doctors and nurses told me they have seen it happen twice. For some unexplained reason, days or even hours before surgery, everything changes. For some unexplained reason, what was a match NO longer is! How heart breaking that would be for both the recipient and donor. This is the scenario I most feared. How I have thanked God it was not the case.

The last part of the Histocompatibility testing done was to once again do an Antibody screening. My internist in my hometown did the initial screening. I was so grateful that God sent April into my journey. She was the sweet phlebotomist who broke down in tears and told me her story of being rejected as a donor. She, like Cody would be used to remind me there are people in this world who do what they say they will do and both of whom,  were used to encourage me. I was reminded often through this long, grueling process that many more donors are rejected than approved. There is such a great need! The transplant center did more in depth screening. My education book that I referenced above describes antibody screening this way: An antibody is a protein substance made by the body’s immune system in response to an antigen. An Antigen is a foreign substance such as a transplanted organ, blood transfusion, virus or pregnancy. Because the antibodies attack the transplanted organ, the antibody screen tests for panel reactive antibody (PRA). The white blood cells of the donor and the blood serum of the recipient are mixed to see if there are antibodies in the recipient that would react with the antigens of the donor. Again, we were compatible. This would also be repeated several times.

After the lab, I reported to the cardiology department and would undergo three hours of heart testing. Very little of this time was spent waiting. I started off with a stress test, EEG, EKG, and several other tests including two using nuclear medicine. This was the only point during the process I somewhat stalled out. I was not prepared for nuclear medicine. Years earlier, I had undergone a nuclear test for my gallbladder and Swore I would Never do it again! Never, never, never! It made me feel horrible and took days to get over. The nurses assured me I would not feel sick afterwards. I made them swear, they were telling me the truth.

Next, I made my way to the transplant center to meet the doctors. By this time, Cody, my donor coordinator had found me in the building and it was really nice to put a face with a name. I met my kidney specialist/nephrologist first.  He explained many things to me and in the middle of doing so; the computer dinged with my preliminary tissue typing and crossmatch results. This was just preliminary as the full results would take days, but he told me the results were very promising. (It was much later that we were told how perfectly we matched.) Until my interest in donating my uncle a kidney, I had never heard the term “living donor.” He explained how much more advantageous a “living kidney” was as compared to a “deceased donor kidney.” Truthfully, I found the whole concept and process very fascinating. He discussed many myths surrounding being a “living donor” with me. One of those myths I have already shared with you in one of my earlier posts. They test at a molecular level. They look at your DNA. You really can’t hide drug or alcohol use. It’s just best to openly and honestly discuss this with them up front should you consider becoming a donor. I hope you will! Not all drug use automatically excludes you as a potential donor. By this time, more results were pouring in and he realized this wasn’t an issue and moved on to another myth. “Everyone can live with one kidney!” I read this on countless websites and it is Not true! Some people can live with one kidney. Testing ultimately revealed I could live with one kidney. One of the funny things he told me was that many times potential donors come in for testing and he had to reveal to them, apparently they were born with only one kidney. Obviously you can’t live with zero kidneys and thus would not be a potential donor.  Imagine trying to donate a kidney and finding out you only had one! The most fascinating thing we discussed was that when one kidney is removed or seriously damaged, say in a terrible auto accident, the remaining kidney begins to grow! Amazing! Two kidneys act kind of lazy because they have a sibling to share the work load. But, remove one and the remaining kidney starts to slightly grow and enlarge. The remaining kidney picks up the slack and becomes a workhorse. How amazing is that! My kidneys and yours are not twins. They are not exactly alike. One is usually bigger than the other for one thing. In some people one can be much bigger than the other. This determines which kidney remains and which is removed for donation purposes. They prefer to leave the donor with the largest kidney. If possible, they prefer to remove a donor’s left kidney as it is somewhat easier to get to. Sizing would be determined by CT scans later in the day. Mine were of similar sizes, therefore my left one would be the one given to my uncle.

My uncle had been through a lot. His window of time had almost closed. Every doctor I met knew my uncle and knew I was the third candidate to be tested. My nephrologist made it clear to me that he was my doctor. As much as he cared for my uncle, he was my doctor and all decisions would be made in my best interest. I could sense he truly cared about my uncle and how little time he had left. He really was concerned about the gravity of my uncle’s situation. Yet, he would vote yes or no on the transplant committee based solely on my ability to live a long life with only one kidney. While I appreciated his honesty and his care about my outcome, this was very hard for me to hear. Of course, I wanted the best outcome for myself, but my uncle was out of time. Many people, most people can live on dialysis a long time. My uncle was not one of those people. He had been on dialysis over three years and it was taking a toll on his heart. It was damaging his heart. My uncle’s cardiologist told him it was reversible, but he had to get a kidney soon. I left with a lot of information and some hope based on preliminary results. But, my heart was heavy. I was concerned my uncle might not have enough time to test another potential donor should I be rejected. As I was leaving, I decided to just bite the bullet and ask him about the elephant in the room. The thing I most dreaded discussing, the million dollar question. I asked him, “Will my weight impact your decision?” He literally looked at me like I was crazy. He replied, “No, why would you think so?” This led to a discussion that was funny but also very informative. If you are considering donating, your weight has little bearing on the decision made. What is important is where you carry your weight. Carrying weight around your middle puts extra pressure on your organs. This is bad and could affect the decision made to approve you. Fortunately for me, I have a small waist and big rear-end. Again, no problem.

I had fasted prior to blood work and was already tired and very hungry. Because, getting checked in took longer than expected, there was no lunch break for me. Thank goodness I had thrown a granola bar in that big bag, which I ate on the way to see the surgeon. I was shocked when he walked in the room. He was so young or was it, that I was old? I swear he looks about eighteen! He explained how the surgery would be performed. Again, he began his explanation about the size of kidneys. Later scans would determine which kidney would be removed and which one I got to keep. Getting to your left kidney is easier. I want to tell that I had done a lot of work before arriving for day one of testing. I may have told you earlier, but want to again. The more you do up front, the less time is needed for a decision to be made. I had sent some paperwork ahead and brought more with me. The surgeon’s biggest concern was my back. This shocked me! What! I did not expect this at all. I explained that my neurosurgeon at home was supportive of my decision and in no way felt having one kidney would compromise my back. I had my latest MRI reports with me. His concern stemmed not from my spine issues, but from the positioning of my body and spine during a long four hour surgery. As he explained, his reasoning became clear to me. It is hard on a healthy back and back pain afterwards is a common complaint. My back was far from normal. You are placed on your back, twisted slightly at the waist (like touching your shoulder to your opposite knee, but not quite that far)  and then bent over sideways. It is hard to explain, so I thought I would give you a visual aid, with my dad’s dog, Killer. (I hope it amuses you as much as it does me!) My first day of testing was not half over yet. But, I think Killer is the perfect place to leave you today. Really, you need to ponder positioning. Why would positioning really matter? A person with spine issues really does need to understand, so back to Killer!

In our mind, picture Killer as he is in this picture. In your mind, flip Killer over onto his back, legs all splayed out most unladylike. Take Killer’s head, neck, shoulders and front legs, twist his waist (if you can find it.) ever so slightly to one side and then bend waist up to head, over to one side, pretty far! Keep Killer there for four hours! This is the positioning required to remove a kidney!

Conversations with Daughters

As a parent, how do you choose which child to tell news first? I usually follow the same pattern. I tell my oldest daughter first! First of all, birth order says it’s her prerogative to know first. Second she is just like her dad, calm and collected! If the world blows up trust me when I say, you will want both on your team:) Third she is a nurse. She is a healer! She was very matter of fact upon hearing I had decided to donate her great-uncle a kidney. It was in my conversation with her that a profound truth was embedded with in my spirit! This truth would guide me through out the entire evaluation process. “Trust the System!” Those three words gave me hope and peace. Peace that it would work out as it was supposed to. I had no worries and no fear! I have been asked repeatedly if I am afraid. I am not! I think this is one of the hardest parts to explain. By nature I am not a fearful person. I’ve often said that you could drop me out of an airplane in the remotest part of China and I would still find someone to talk with and laugh with. I would not be afraid! Giving up a kidney seems much easier to me than moving to a foreign country with one husband, two children, two dogs, and unable to speak or read one word of the language.  My oldest daughter’s calmness gave me assurance. Since the moment I stopped fighting what I knew in my spirit I was hearing, all traces of fear and apprehension left me. That is not a natural human reaction. I believe that is a Spirit driven reaction. Doing what we know we are supposed to do brings peace and conquers fear!

Just because one wants to donate a kidney does not make it happen. There is a system in place for potential transplant donors. As a donor, you have a goal to give your organ to someone in need. But, the donor evaluation system also has a goal. It wants to rule you out! Potential donors go through what some call the “million dollar evaluation.” The transplant team is looking for a reason to reject you, medically speaking. Every transplant is guided by very stringent guidelines and mandates. Every transplant done in the United States, regardless which transplant center it is done through impacts national statistics. So every transplant team wants it to be a success! If you want to know more look up http://www.unos.org The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) was established under the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984. Since 1986, United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) has operated the OPTN under federal contract to the Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration. Learn more at http://optn.transplant.hrsa.gov/ (Taken from the booklet Living Donation by UNOS.)

Talking to my oldest daughter clarified for me this fact, if there was a reason I should not do this medically speaking, it would be found. It is not uncommon for undiagnosed illnesses or conditions to be uncovered  and identified in the process. Before beginning the process of evaluation to see if you could be a possible organ donor, you must be prepared to learn something about your body you don’t know. It happens! If there is a medical condition that would put you at risk, it will be found. One other thing I want to say to other potential donors. If you are a street drug user, you can not hide that so you might as well tell them up front! There is a myth out there that you can hide your use by taking herbs or over the counter remedies. You can not hide any drug or even alcohol use. The blood testing that is done is not such, as you get at your local family doctor. They are testing at the cellular level. They are looking at your DNA. “Trust the System!!”

Next, I called my youngest daughter. She is four and a half years younger than her older sister. I have often said my two girls are like day and night. I have been thinking about that and it’s not quite accurate. They are more like moonlight and sunlight! Both compliment each other and both are needed for survival! Mine! Life is better with both! What touched me most about my conversation with my youngest was her First remark. Speaking of her older sister she asked, “What does ___ say?” She didn’t need to ask, she knew I would have already talked to her big sister. She trusts her sister’s opinion!

The hardest phone call was telling my mother! I knew she would be nervous and worried. Of course, she wanted my uncle to get a kidney! But, it would have been easier for her if it came from someone other than her oldest baby:)  As a mother, I totally understand that! That is a normal reaction, because who wants to see their child go through something like donating a kidney. It is serious! I am the oldest of four daughters. This August will be two years since my dad passed away. It is hard, we miss him! It was hard for me to tell my mom, because I didn’t want to worry her. It was hard for her to hear. She is supportive of my decision and will be there on transplant day! Kathy

Failed Plans

As I write this, I stop to count days! Today is Tuesday. On Thursday, it will be ten weeks since I donated a kidney to my uncle. Maybe you have wondered why my blog stopped or maybe not:) The reason was one I never expected!

As you know, I am somewhat OCD! I like things in order! I had a plan. Hurry up and write about the eight to nine month decision process and be ready to go. If I could accomplish this, then at surgery time I would be ready to blog in real-time. The closer to surgery I got, the more stressed I was becoming. Why the heck did I have to be so long-winded! Because, I’m a story-teller, that’s why! Yet, I had to consider what the self-inflicted stress was doing to my body. I felt run down and decided that was not a good way to undergo a serious surgery!  I looked at my options, because that’s how I do things. I came up with an alternative plan. I would stop blogging a few days before surgery and pick back up two or three days after surgery. I didn’t!

I tried multiple times but could not concentrate! My brain simply could not concentrate. I am a voracious reader. I could not read! I seriously could not read and understand the writing on the back of my poptart box!  (Yes, I know they will kill me! But, hey I just made it through a complicated four-hour surgery and felt like walking on the wild side!) I couldn’t read and it scared me! I had No fear of surgery, none! Even at the point of being wheeled down the hall to the operating room, I had no fear. I thought I might, but I didn’t. There was nothing but peace, because I know without a doubt God guided me in the decision to give a kidney away.  Days passed after surgery and still I could not concentrate. I read my Bible each morning and I would read a few pages over and over. That scared me! Nothing I read prepared me for that. My sister kept assuring me it was just a side effect of the anesthesia. I asked the doctors and nurses and they agreed, it was a result of anesthesia. They kept telling me it would pass. But, what if it didn’t! I LOVE to read! Life as I knew it would be over! I know you think that is dramatic. But, to me it wasn’t. It isn’t! I cannot imagine life without reading. I get attached to books. I re-read books often. I love people but I LOVE books:)

So, here I am almost ten weeks later and it has gotten better. But, I am not back to my pre-anesthesia self. I still have to read most sentences twice. I am no longer scared and I know I will get back to normal. Time!

Kathy McKee

PS.  Now I have a brain problem, so please forgive my punctuation problems!

PSS. But, how was donating a kidney you ask. I’m going to get to that. Eventually!

One thought on “Failed Plans”

Wow! Here we are, Kathy! All of that is so strange. Anesthesia must cause mental quirks for lots of people. I have heard a number of tales from different friends. It must be that the more of the stuff you take, the more complicated the quirk is and the longer it takes to get over it. That was a long surgery, and I imagine that you had more anesthesia than the average amount given.

Charles is in such shock in so many ways. Part of his brain is still waking up, but he has a deep smile, and no matter what trouble he has, he is beyond happy. He has had so many problems, none of which he was given the slightest clue was going to happen. Dr. Williams told us last week that Charles slipped into the transplant “through the eye of a needle.” He and Dr. Wynn, the transplant surgeon, both said the word “heart failure.” We assume with all that the doctors have said, combined with what occurred, just a little longer and Charles would not have made it. He actually was not a good candidate for a transplant. Dialysis was really doing a number on Charles’s heart fast. Last Friday, Dr. Vallette, Charles’s local vascular surgeon, did a fistula ligation to tie off the artery and vein that was made for dialysis. According to all of the doctors, the heart failure is reversible, and this ligation will do the trick. Immediately, his heart rate slowed to a near normal pace. Next, his heart will have to be shocked to beat with a normal rhythm. Every day here is happy and exciting.

Take your time about writing. When more time passes and you get rested up and relaxed, everything will all come back. For now, try to not worry. You are our hero. We are so blessed to have you, and we thank God every day for you. Aunt Becky and Uncle Charles

A Village

I have debated how to pick up my story of being fifth in line to donate my uncle a kidney, for a few weeks! I told you that there was a gap in my timeline because the transplant happened!!! It was a success and very exciting for my family. Should I just skip the rest of the decision-making process I went through and  jump into the transplant itself, or should I pick up where I left off? So much goes into the decision to do something of this magnitude, I have decided to pick up where I last left you. The main reason I made this choice was in hopes that if you are considering donating a kidney, you would read my thought process and decide Yes, I can do this! There is so much need out there! As of September 8, 2014 the National Kidney Foundation reports on average, three thousand new patients are added to the kidney waiting list each month. Twelve people die each day while waiting for a kidney transplant! Every fourteen minutes, someone is added to the kidney transplant list! There is an anonymous quote I read and loved,  in the back of a booklet by UNOS that says: “To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.”

You may be at a pivotal point in your own decision-making process, if you are considering or will consider donating a kidney! If so, I pray that you will read that quote over and over. You can make a difference! You can make a difference in this crazy world we live in! You can make a difference out of nothing more than love!

I have already told you that once my decision was made through much prayer, my husband and I agreed it was time. Time to tell my aunt and uncle (who would be the recipient of my kidney), time to tell our daughters, time to tell my mother and last, it was time to tell my sisters. I am the oldest of four girls and we are all spoiled! I don’t mean whiny, bratty spoiled! I mean spoiled with love! We know we are loved! That is rare!

Moving a lot and trying to describe my family to new friends, I often just ask, “Have you ever seen the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Well, substitute Irish and Scots heritage for Greek and there you go!” It’s mostly true:)   When I tell you our lives are all entwined with each others, I kid you not! We are somewhat unique in the sense that we represent to some degree, separate generations. I just turned 57 yesterday. My next sister (sister #2) is two years younger than I am. She married before I did, to her high school sweetheart.  At fifteen years old, my third sister (sister #3) was born. At twenty-one years old, my fourth sister (sister #4) was born. Our babies! In my wedding pictures she is eleven months old! I say “our” babies, because we two older girls felt like they were also “our babies”. In my opinion, that entitles us to a little bossiness:)   I have always felt my mom and dad stayed so young, because they always had children around! Three and a half years after my last sister was born, my first daughter was born! However, nine months prior to my daughter’s birth, sister #2 had her first child, also a daughter. Are you confused yet? Basically, my youngest sister #4, my niece, and my oldest daughter are the same age! All were born within a three and a half-year , window of time.

Now, sister #2 and I have grandchildren. Sister #3 and sister #4 have young children very close in age to our grandchildren. When all four sisters, spouses, children, and grandchildren are together (which is often), we seat twenty-four for dinner! When you throw in aunts, uncles, and cousins , well you can see how appropriate it is to say, “It takes a village!”.

Heck, we are a Village!

(Our family photo is thanks to Kyndal Shelton. Since this picture we have added a lovely new bride!)

Choices

Some of you may be reading this searching for information or experiential accounts, on donating a kidney. You may be totally Un-interested in my family! My extended family is big and this is in part also for them, so Please bear with me. As I stated from the beginning, my story can not be told apart from my faith or family.

In reality, neither can yours!

Our family and our life experiences, permeate our very beings! Our genes are coded from birth, pre-wired if you like. But, what we experience also plays a very important part of who we are and/or who we become. Genetics or environment/experiences, which is most important? That’s a question Many have debated and some quite passionately! I’ve had many conversations on this topic and I will tell you my opinion on the topic has changed. Regardless of where you stand on which reigns superior, no one can deny that both produce who we are. If you are considering kidney donation rest assured your genetic makeup will get more than a cursory look. But our familial relationships and experiences also affect us. What we believe about eternity affects us. All play a part whether consciously or subconsciously in how we process information and make decisions.  What we choose to do with these experiences affects not only us, but also generations to come! We are responsible for what we do with our experiences. Will we allow them to mold us into a usable vessel for good or not? If you are a Christian, will you allow God to use your experiences as a platform for His use?   So we each must choose to use our life experiences for our good and the good of others, or we don’t. Life is made up of choices. I will be frank and say that my husband’s family story is completely opposite mine! Bad choices made generations ago, still affect the current generation. Truth and lies, each carry consequences that can last for generations!

Yet, my husband is one of the smartest, kindest,  and most compassionate men I have ever known! Our familial experiences could not be more different. We are very different in temperament. I am an extrovert who could talk to a brick wall and he is not:)   But, when he speaks, everyone listens. Not, because he is loud; quite the opposite, because what he says always has value. He genuinely loves people, all people. This we have in common. He loves me and his compassion and love for my family has impacted him deeply. We both came to see the other half of the world, lived very differently than our own. He often says, “Only by God’s grace and love, am I normal!” Although, we both agree normal is somewhat overrated:) We choose to live life rooted in God’s love, forgiveness, mercy and deep desire to know us. We choose to know Him, because He first chose us. He chooses you, too! Another choice we each must make.

Regardless of your background, family or faith your life experiences with each do play a roll in how you make decisions. Making a decision as important as giving away a kidney, can not be made apart from those you do life with! It is serious and I, as well as, you must view  it with an eye on eternity. What if I died during the transplant? If you choose to donate a kidney, what if you die?

It is irresponsible Not to consider the possibility.

Conversations with God

Kidney donation in not a highly technical or complicated surgery, so said my surgeon. He also told me that it was not as serious as removing a gall bladder. Years ago, I gladly gave up my gall bladder and I literally pray it was incinerated! Mine was a nasty piece of business and I do NOT miss it! I survived that surgery. Recovery was not to bad.

However, all surgeries are serious and not to be undertaken without thought. All wise people must be prepared not only for complications during surgery, but afterwards as well.  All wise people must be prepared for death! It is a real possibility. I comforted myself with the knowledge that the hospital where the transplant would take place, had never lost a patient. Being the planner I am, I still gave much thought to life and death. Not in a morbid way, just a realistic acceptance of an unknowable outcome. I wanted to prepare myself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I took great care to examine each dimension honestly and so should you, if you make a decision to donate an organ. I wanted to be prepared and I wanted those left behind to be prepared! I wanted them to know how much I love them! This is very important. I wrote my husband, my daughters and each of my grandchildren a letter and mailed just before surgery. I will talk more about this later. But, prepare yourself to do this. It is hard!

Spiritual preparation was not mystical nor was it a rote prayer from some book. It was just an honest prayer, which is nothing more than conversation with God. I believe and know from God’s word that He is a loving God, not vengeful. He forgives sins and He forgave mine. He can forgive yours as well. In fact, I believe He longs to forgive us! We are His creation and He loves us! It is really not important what church I go to. God is into individuals, not buildings. So I prepared with much prayer. I prepared with much conversation with God! Last, I often felt a nudge to evaluate what I really believe about God. I often read the Apostle’s Creed*! I often read it out loud to my dog:) It is my solid foundation and it very succinctly sums up truth about God. Forget all the do’s and don’ts of perceived Christianity and get down to the basics. I hope you will!

Kathy

*Apostle’s Creed:

  • I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
  • I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit; born of the virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried;  he descended into hell;
  • The third day he rose again from the dead;
  • He ascended into heaven, and is sitting at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
  • From there He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
  • I believe in the Holy Spirit;
  • The holy Christian church;
  • The communion of the saints;
  • The forgiveness of sins;
  • The resurrection of the body;
  • and the life everlasting.         Amen  (Taken from Luther’s Catechism)

Crossing the River

If you are still following and reading my blog, thank you!

Throughout the time I told my family of my decision to donate my uncle a kidney, I often thought of my dad. I wondered what he would say of my decision. Unknowingly my brother-in-law helped answer that question. As he helped set up my blog, he wrote a sample piece for me to click on and see what it looked like as a viewer. Speaking of my father, he wrote in part:

“My father left many lessons that still resonate within the deepest part of me, despite his having been gone from this earth for nearly two years now. Of the most significant things he taught me was, giving to others if I could “spare” it.”

That is so true and it instantly clarified for me that my dad would have been supportive of my decision to donate a kidney to his brother-in-law.

I am an extrovert, just like my dad. But he was special! His presence was so big that when he walked into a room, he literally took up all the space! He was a character, as we say here in the south. He was charming, funny, handsome, and a  Brilliant businessman and entrepreneur. Most important of all, he loved the Lord and taught all his children to as well. He was taught to love the Lord at his mother’s knee! My grandmother was an Amazing woman! She was the strongest woman I have ever known. In fact, both of my grandmothers were! I realize I typed this on National Grandparents Day, September 13, 2015. How fitting! I would need a book to describe both sides of my family! Aren’t you glad I’m not going into details:) My father is one of seven children and my mother is one of six children. Both of my grandmothers knew deep sorrow and pain! They chose to use it for good. We can not choose what we are born into. But, with God’s help we can choose what we do with sorrow and pain in our life. Good or bad, we choose!

My sisters and I make decisions with a lifetime of watching my dad and mom make decisions behind us. Our children do the same. You do the same. We watched my dad make decisions without full comprehension as children. Some were risky, very risky. I never saw my dad fearful over a business decision. I never remember seeing my dad fearful. He may have been but he never showed that. We had total confidence in him! He showed no fear the Sunday afternoon he threw me in the Bartahatchie river and said, “Swim!”  (Don’t even ask my mom about this:) Harsh you say! NO way! I swam! He believed and I did it. His belief in all of his girls, has been a homing beacon for each of us.

My dad had a real soft spot for a sob story, which is another southern colloquialism. He gave to people in need. Often to people we might think undeserving. But, that was not important to him. He saw a need or heard of one and he helped. We really had no idea how many he helped until he died. What stories we were told! My dad was not a gossip and spoke his mind. You never had to wonder what he was thinking, he would tell you. You never had to read between the lines with him. He took people at face value! There is still so much I am learning from him.

I love the euphemism “crossing the river” to describe someone you love dying. I think I love it so much, because it reminds me of my dad teaching me to swim in the Bartahatchie river. In my mind I picture him just on the other side of the river, waiting on me to swim to him, to get to him. His “crossing the river” has left a huge hole in my mother’s world, in his children’s world, in his grandchildren’s world, and in his great-grandchildren’s world. It has left a hole in the lives of his siblings and countless friends. He was loved and he is much missed. He was carried to his final resting place by three generations. As long as I live I will always ask myself, what would my dad say! Donating a kidney, he would approve! Kathy

Beginnings

On Monday, February 9, I called the abdominal transplant line at University Hospital in Jackson, MS.  I simply said I wanted to donate a kidney to my uncle and they took my call-back information. They told me I would receive a packet in the mail.  It seemed somewhat anticlimactic! I waited! Almost two weeks passed with no word, nor any mail.  On February 25, I called again. During this time frame, there had been personnel turnovers at the hospital. As it would turn out, this was to our great advantage!

The process of “live organ donation” is long and can be enhanced or complicated by personalities involved. It shouldn’t be this way! But where there are people, there are personalities and that is just reality! The process begins with being assigned a donor coordinator or case worker. The donor and the recipient have different coordinators. It seemed to me it might have been easier had we been assigned the same one. (More later about what I think was the first miracle in our case!) But, many times donors do not know the recipient. At the end of the day, the purpose in having different coordinators is to insure they have you, the donor or recipient, as their main interest. It insures their loyalty is to you and what’s in your best interest! It insures that should difficulties arise or decisions need to be made that are hard, the coordinator has only your interests at heart. This is standard protocol regardless which transplant center you go to.

To say the coordinator holds your whole case in the palm of her hand, is really an understatement! Coordinators or case workers alone present their findings to the transplant team. The transplant team decides yes or no, based on the merits of each case. The donor and the recipient must both be approved with high expectations of a successful transplant. Every transplant team wants a successful outcome as that not only affects national statistics but also affects their own. The coordinator alone decides when he or she is ready to present their case! Prior to presentation, they guide you through a lengthy period of testing in which information is gathered about your body, that will in turn be used by the team of doctors to decide yes or no. Having a good relationship with your coordinator is very important! The length of the process in itself weeds out many.

My uncle had been waiting a long time. His testing was complete. Dialysis was affecting his body and time was running out. I was fifth in line wanting to donate a kidney to him. I was third to go through the testing. It had not been easy for them and they had experienced some relationship problems with their coordinator, prior to my calling and wanting to donate. I knew this when I called. So I simply prayed and then did what my daughter told me, “trust the system”.

On Wednesday, February 25, when I called again, the coordinator apologized for not sending me my information packet and told me she was leaving the job the following week. I would be assigned a new coordinator. I was impatient that two weeks had been wasted. She assigned me tentative testing days of March 23-24 and told me someone would be in touch and my packet would be on the way.  I had so many questions, but knew that I would just be starting over, so bit my lip and did not ask them:) As I was about to hang up, I casually mentioned that I had an upcoming appointment with my internist for my bi-yearly blood test to monitor my thyroid level. I asked her if there was anything I should ask. At first she said no and as we were hanging up she said, “Wait, if you want you could ask her to go ahead and type your blood and screen it for antibodies.” This is the very first step to see if a donor and recipient match. Two days later, I saw my internist and she was excited and approved of my attempt to donate a kidney. She agreed to do the blood typing and screening in addition to my thyroid testing. Down in the lab, the phlebotomist questioned the order for the antibody screening. Apparently there are several and she wasn’t sure which one was needed. I told her why I needed it. She almost burst into tears, which flustered me. After calming down, she told me her story of trying to donate a kidney to her aunt. The transplant team (different hospital, different state) rejected her.  I told her how sorry I was for her and her family. Her story reminded me that statistically more people are rejected than accepted, but I decided to trust that voice I had been hearing for almost nine months.  She told me not to worry, she would figure out what was needed and would personally make sure the results were faxed to the hospital. I was never so happy to have blood taken. She turned out to be the first but not last person, I learned to trust during the process. She did what she promised!

Finally, it was beginning!     Kathy