It's almost October, which will mark the 6th anniversary of my kidney donation. For those of you who don't know, I donated a kidney to my mother in 2007. It was an incredible experience, the end result being that my mom is alive, no longer on dialysis, and doing great.
Two years ago, crafter and artist Caitlin Holcomb was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease. She's been on dialysis since then, and has been actively looking for a donor during this time as well. Kidneys from living donors have a much greater chance of not being rejected by the body, and the waiting list for non-living donors can take way too long. Dialysis sucks. You have to sit in a sterile room three times a week for hours while hooked up to a creepy machine (that's saving your life, but still, it's weird) that does the work your kidneys are no longer capable of. Her family members have been tested and are not compatible, so she's now trying to find another living donor. Possibly a generous stranger (this is called altruistic or non-directed donation), or a person who wants to donate a kidney to one of their own family members but isn't a match (this is called a "paired exchange," and it's one of the coolest things ever). I'm writing this post to spread the word about Caitlin's need and also to let you know firsthand what it's like to become a living donor. I've only met Caitlin a few times, but she is an amazing artist and person who I'm proud to call my friend.
Sometimes I feel weird sharing my experience as a living donor because it sounds like the world's biggest humblebrag. "Oh, you donated blood? I donated a kidney! Top that, suckers!" But the truth is, I did it, it was awesome, I am and plan to remain in excellent health, and not enough people know what becoming a living donor really entails. So here are a few facts:
- Mortality rates for kidney donors look to be the same or better than the general population based on current research
- Living kidney donation has the best track record of all forms of donation
- Living donor kidneys almost always start functioning immediately, whereas deceased donor kidneys can take from a few days to a few weeks to start functioning
- Over 5,000 people die every year waiting for a kidney transplant
The actual operation: I was in the hospital for two nights. Two nights! I felt pretty barfy when I was woken up after the surgery, but that was mostly the anesthesia wearing off. Plus, they woke me up to tell me that the transplant had gone well and my mom was doing fine. I slept off and on all that day. I didn't feel great, and my abdominal muscles were extremely sore. Like, if I tried to sit up without using my hands, it hurt real bad. It also hurt to cough and laugh for a few days. Peter took me home the next day, where I hung out in bed watching The Office and eating various broths for a few days. I had three scars: one big one on my lower stomach where they took the kidney out, and two smaller ones. (They are basically gone now!) On my second or third day home, I took a walk down the street to Starbucks. It felt like I had done ten million situps and I had to hunch over. Honestly, the worst thing physically was when I put too much pepper in my broth and had a coughing fit that almost destroyed me due to my compromised abs. Seriously. That was the most physical pain I suffered.
I'm not saying becoming a living donor is not a big deal. It is. It's a huge deal, and the emotional impact can be more much more powerful than the physical. It is major surgery, and no surgery is without risk. I can only speak to my own experience. I will say that six years later, I'm in the best shape of my life. It would not be in my best interest to become a raging alcoholic or get repeatedly kicked in my remaining kidney, but I anticipate a totally normal life expectancy as well as the ability to drink a Manhattan every once in a while. Also, I get to see my mom for her birthday this weekend.
Caitlin's last few years have been a real suckstorm, and while her health has improved, her life has changed a lot. She hasn't been able to travel for craft shows (where I first met her!) and has to deal with a lot of stress both physically and mentally. I would love to see her get a new kidney. If you have any questions, feel free to comment anonymously or send me or Caitlin an email. I will answer as honestly as I can. You can also check out Kidney.org for more info. Word-of-mouth is often the only way recipients find donors, so this is the least I can do. Please share this post in the hope that someone, somewhere will be interested, curious, or ready to give a huge gift to an awesome lady.