Last year, we learned that my wife would require a kidney transplant. This did not come as a surprise, since she suffers from polycystic kidney disease (PKD), a genetic renal disorder that affects one in every 500 people and sooner or later destroys the kidneys’ ability to function.
After some soul searching, I decided to give her one of mine. It was not an easy decision to make since there were many factors to consider, but I am at peace with it now. In fact, I’ve come to appreciate some things about a kidney transplant that I never would have thought of before.
After having read Amy Gutman’s 40 Ways to Appreciate a Kidney Stone, I thought I would create my own list of ways to put a positive spin on a tough situation. (She, in fact, only came up with 25, so we’re on par with that, and I think it’s plenty.) So here it is…
25 Ways to Appreciate a Kidney Transplant
1. It’s not cancer. An organ transplant is major surgery with all the attendant risks. However, it is a fairly proscribed event–especially kidney transplants–with defined boundaries and well-understood outcomes. Cancer is still the king of menacing diseases. There is so much that remains unknown about cancer, and so many ways in which it works, and the outcomes are so uncertain. It really destroys lives.
2. It’s not some mystery illness that eats away at one’s quality of life without any hope for a cure. In fact, there is very little that is mysterious about kidney transplants any more. The first one was performed successfully in 1954, and today, thousands are completed nationwide every year.
3. We only need one kidney anyway. The reason for why we have two is buried in the mists of prehistoric time. Today, in most developed countries, the second one is a redundant system we’ll probably never need. And studies have shown that the long-term health of donors is not significantly different from that of the general population.
4. A kidney has an almost plug and play quality to it. It’s a relatively simple organ that performs its job well. Once you get the right match and make the transplant, it starts to work. My wife was producing urine almost immediately, and her blood chemistry improved dramatically within days.
5. Urine never looked so good. The production of urine is a bodily function we all take for granted. But were it not to happen, we would die. My leftover kidney has taken up the task heroically, and while I have been annoyed these past few days by how often I visit the bathroom, I am also very thankful that all is well for both me and my wife.
6. Kidney transplantation is quite literally life-saving. I’ve never saved a life before. Now I have.
7. Becoming a living donor does not require that you be a blood relative to the recipient. While it can make screening easier, it by no means is an absolute rule. I am a case in point.
8. Becoming a living donor does not require that you be the same blood type as the recipient. I am Type O and my wife is Type B, so I’m what’s called a “universal donor.” But more than that, there is so much that is understood about the transplant process, and the anti-rejection drugs have become so effective, that blood type matching is less important than it used to be. Frankly, the fact that it was a living donation is more relevant to her long-term outcome than any blood type match.
9. In by 6, out by 5. We had the transplant done at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). They perform hundreds of kidney transplants a year. They are so good at it now that when surgery is scheduled, you are whisked through a process that seems almost routine.
10. When surgery is planned and well executed, recovery goes quickly. While I am still recovering at home, I left the hospital two days after my kidney was removed. My wife will spend about a week in the hospital. The healing is already happening. Which leads me to…
11. With planned surgery, we didn’t have to cancel or reschedule anything. This has been on the calendar for months and we were psyched up for it.
12. Effective pain management is a blessing. With the pain under control, I was able to get out of bed sooner than I probably would have otherwise, which the doctors told me was key to getting my normal functions back on track. Pain can also affect you psychologically, so having it controlled helped me think clearly.
13. Neither my wife nor I have experienced any adverse reactions to our medications. I’ve heard that for some donors, the pain medication makes them nauseous or woozy, which diminishes the positive effects. I had no such problem.
14. Being a living donor, people treat you like a hero. I didn’t do this for personal glory, but the recognition is nice.
15. Donors at UMMC get a great hospital room. It’s more like a hotel room, with an eighth-floor view of Baltimore outside. It sounds like a small thing, but it made a big difference for me in my recovery.
16. It’s not a traumatic injury, like a car accident or a gunshot wound. It is a tightly controlled operation which means that the recovery is faster and more certain.
17. It builds community and brings out the best in people. My wife is now a part of the transplant community, and I am part of the world of living donors. It is a fellowship from which our membership can never be revoked. Furthermore, just saying that I am an organ donor brightens people’s days and inspires them to offer cheer and support.
18. You get to meet interesting people. All of my nurses were wonderful. And the surgeons and anesthesiologists were top-notch. In addition, my wife’s surgeon turns out to be a member of our religious community. What a small world!
19. Insurance covers the costs. Kidney transplants have such an established track record as an effective treatment that most medical plans cover it to some degree. Even Medicare has provisions for transplants.
20. It’s not living with an alcoholic spouse.
21. It’s not living with an autistic or chronically ill child.
22. It’s not living with abuse.
23. It’s not living with mental illness or a neurological condition.
24. I got used to wearing the hospital gown. I can see the appeal of sun dresses.
25. I’m losing my fear of needles. So many have gone in, what’s the point (pun intended)?