My Dad's Kidney Transplant Story
A Tale Of Two Kidneys
This is the story of my dad who received a life saving kidney transplant in 2011. This is also the story of the unnamed man or woman who passed away and donated his or her organs, giving my dad the kidney that saved his life.
Right now, in the U.S. there are over 115,000 people waiting for an organ donation that could save their lives. Around 77 organ transplants happen every day which is an amazing statistic! But 18 people will die today as they wait for an organ and 1 new person will be added to that waiting list every 10 minutes. Despite the number of kidney transplants each day, the list of those needing transplants continues to grow longer.
My dad was one of the lucky ones and we feel extremely blessed. Read on to learn more.
Life With One Kidney
My dad lived with one kidney for a long time. He lost his left kidney in a sledding accident when he was only 10 and lived a normal life until the age of 41 when he learned his remaining kidney was in the beginning stages of failure.
I was a sophomore in high school when my dad learned that his only kidney was failing. I don't remember many of the details, I was told that it was still very early and that they hoped to manage the kidney disease with a combination of medication and diet. As a teenager, I didn't ask many questions. I simply trusted my parents when they said "don't worry". For the most part, my dad's reduced kidney function did not change his life. He started drinking more water and eating less salt but he was healthy and continued to live his normal life.
I didn't hear much else about my dad's kidney after that initial talk about kidney failure. I knew he went for checkups but otherwise, there wasn't much to talk about. As they say, life goes on...
Kidney Fun Fact:
Your kidneys filter about 2 gallons of blood every hour, that's almost 50 gallons per day!
Making Plans For A Kidney Transplant
Waiting To Join The Waiting List
Then, in early 2009 the doctors told my dad that he needed to start thinking about kidney transplant. They said it was probably a few years off but that his kidney function had gotten to a point where they needed him to come in more regularly for blood work to keep an eye on things.
By August 2010, my dad's kidney function had dropped to a point where his doctor was thinking he would need to be evaluated to join the transplant waiting list in the summer of 2011.
At the time, I was busy planning my wedding for May 2011 and was scared that my dad would be too sick or worse yet, not around to walk me down the aisle. I know it sounds selfish but my wedding certainly wasn't my biggest concern. Picturing my wedding without my dad is just what really drove home the whole situation for me. You hear so many stories about people dying as they wait for an organ and the idea of my dad being on that list terrified me. The doctors seemed confident that things were not that scary yet but at the time it seemed very immediate to me.
My dad's blood tests in March 2011 showed a Creatinine level between 5-6. Levels of .6 - 1.2 are considered normal and generally levels over 5 indicate end stage renal failure. His doctor told him that Dialysis was in his near future and he was started on a low potassium diet to help kidney function. They also discussed transplant evaluation at this time which I will talk about more below.
My parents researched and thought over the dialysis choices before deciding on Peritoneal Dialysis which they thought would be the best option for their lifestyle. To prepare for the Peritoneal Dialysis my dad had to have surgery to have a port placed in his stomach. The surgery was scheduled in June which gave Dad a chance to finish out the school year and walk me down the aisle at the end of May :)
With My Dad On My Wedding Day
Dad's surgery to prepare for Peritoneal Dialysis went off without a hitch in June. It is an out-patient surgery so he was home that night and alert enough to drink the strawberry shake I'd brought him from Dairy Queen.
My parents were planning their annual vacation in July but in 2011 my Dad had to get permission from his doctors to leave the state. His Creatinine level had risen to between 8 - 9 just since March. He was ultimately allowed to go but the vacation really wore him out. His decreased kidney function was causing his body to fill with toxins. He was tired all the time and had little appetite. He lost a lot of weight that summer.
Dad started dialysis in August 2011. His first treatment was done in the clinic so that he could be observed for any bad reactions. He felt better immediately following the treatment and was cleared to start the treatments at home. Peritoneal Dialysis is an 8 hour process that is done while the patient is sleeping. It took awhile for my parents to adjust to the machine and it's noises at night, not to mention the boxes of supplies that were piled in my childhood bedroom! But, it was well worth the inconvenience because Dad felt so much better and had so much more energy during the day.
The picture on the right shows Dad with my daughter about a week after he started dialysis. He actually had enough energy to take her on a walk and help her climb rocks - something he would not have been able to do before starting dialysis.
Did You Know...
There are over 26 million people in American who have Chronic Kidney Disease and the numbers are growing.
Do you or someone you know need dialysis?
Dealing With Dialysis
There are over 300,000 people on dialysis in the United States alone. Worldwide, the number of dialysis patients is estimated to be over 4 million. As number of people with kidney disease grows, so does the number of dialysis patients. Without a transplant, these patients must continue to receive dialysis treatment to stay alive.
Do you know someone who has dialysis treatments? Do you need dialysis?
Weigh in below and feel free to comment with more information about your answer!
Become A Living Donor
Are you registered as a living donor?
Looking For Living Donors
At the same time Dad was getting ready for dialysis, he was also beginning the process to get on the waiting list for a new kidney.
In June 2011 he made an all day visit to the University of Iowa Hospital where he went through his transplant evaluation. Numerous doctors tested him and talked to him to make sure he was healthy enough to be considered as an organ recipient. They checked everything from his heart to his eyes, lungs, teeth and more.
One week after Dad began dialysis he received the good news that he was cleared for transplant and he was added to the list. At that point, he was given packets of information to hand out to friends and family members who has shown an interest in being a live donor. The great news for people needing kidneys is that they can often find a match from a sibling, spouse or friend since these people are able to give one of their kidneys and still go on to live a healthy life.
There were a lot of people in my dad's life who were interested in donating a kidney if they were a match for him. Potential living donors must go through extensive evaluations similar to recipients. If you know someone who needs a kidney the first step is applying to be a donor. From there you will be asked to give blood to determine if you are a match. They will also make sure that you are healthy enough to undergo surgery and to live with just one kidney. Learn more about being a Living Donor
I was newly pregnant at the time which automatically eliminated me from the pool of potential donors. But, I planned to fill out the information packet after my baby was born. Luckily for all of us, my Dad did not have to wait long to receive his new kidney.
A whirlwind of excitement and fear
On October 19, 2011 my parents received a phone call from Dad's transplant coordinator - they had a matching kidney for my dad after only 2 months of waiting on the list. At the time she called they were at the auto repair shop, picking up their car which had been in for hail damage and they missed the call! Trisha called their home number and then both cell phones and left messages on all three answering machines.
In my mom's words:
"I listened to my message and then both of us were in so much shock we drove home as quickly as we could and Dave called Trisha back from home. Everything went a little crazy then. We had actually absorbed the fact that this was real! After only a short time on the waiting list the U of I had a kidney that was a perfect match for Dave. Six out of six markers matched!"
It was 6 o'clock in the evening and Trisha told them they needed to be at the hospital before 8. To save time they decided that they would divide up the phone calls that needed to be made. Dad called my brother, Brian and my Mom called me. I was getting my daughter ready for bath time and could not really process what Mom was telling me. It was truly an unexpected miracle!
Dad also had to call the principal at his school to tell him that he would likely need a few months off work. This call was really hard for him because Dad had not told anyone at the school that he had kidney disease.
After making the essential phone calls, they grabbed a few things and hurried off to the University of Iowa Hospital. They made it just under the wire. Dad was assigned to a room and told that his surgery would be sometime the next day. The kidney was traveling from somewhere on the East Coast and in the meantime, Dad had to undergo more tests and interviews.
The next day my brother and I drove down to the hospital together so we could be there when Dad went for surgery. We still didn't know when it would take place but it was nice to be there as a family waiting together. Dad wasn't allowed to eat or drink so we tried to keep him distracted from that and the nerves before surgery. We walked all over the hospital, through the small hospital museum and even out on the roof to peek at Kinnick Stadium.
Through all of this excitement and anticipation, there was one thing that was always on our minds. Somewhere, someone had lost a loved one. We were benefiting from someone else's loss. It's a hard feeling to explain. That unknown family was lifted up in prayer by my family many times from the moment we got the call through all of the days at the hospital and beyond. We are tied to them forever even if we never know who they are.
My husband and daughter came down to visit that evening. They were only there for a short time before we finally got word that it was time for the transplant to take place! Suddenly things were happening so fast. Within minutes they were wheeling Dad down the hallway to prep him for surgery and we were left in his room with nothing to do but twiddle our thumbs.
We waited for about four hours before Dad was brought back to his room at 10 pm with his new kidney. The surgeon said that from skin open to skin closed, the surgery only took two hours and was almost record breaking. We hoped that they weren't racing! It wasn't until after the surgery that we learned what had caused the long delay that kept us waiting all day for the surgery. Dad had built up some antibodies that had potential to reject the new kidney and they had to test it before they went through with the transplant. Luckily, he passed that extra test and was able to receive the kidney. The surgeon also told us that the only way Dad could have gotten a closer match for his new kidney was if he got one from an identical twin brother. It felt like the blessings just kept falling on us. The kidney was already working well right after the surgery and we hoped that would be a good sign for recovery.
My Dad's recovery did go well. He was at the hospital for two full days after surgery. At the hospital they were constantly on the lookout for signs of rejection and infection. They also taught my parents the warning signs to look for. They also spent a long time teaching my parents about all of the new medicines that were now a part of his daily life. He came home on the Monday following surgery and began to adjust to his new life as a kidney recipient.
Kidney Transplant Recovery
My dad's post transplant recovery was pretty smooth and without complication. His kidney was such a good match that the chance of rejection were slim but he still has to take a cocktail of drugs at various times every day. These medications may change throughout the years but he will always be tied to medication to keep his body from attacking the new kidney.
Dad returned to work in January 2012 and was able to complete the school year without incident. He was at the hospital to meet his first grandson in April. He spent his summer working on remodeling the bathroom. And of course, he and my mom took their annual road trip. That year they traveled to Colorado and hiked in the Rocky Mountains.
At the one year transplant check up, everything still looked good. In my dad's words:
"The Dr. said the kidney is doing great and that I don't have to come back for a year. I have been truly blessed! Thanks to all of my family and friends for your support, you have been good medicine for both the kidney and me. On Saturday October 20th it will be exactly one year since the transplant. It has been a good year and I haven't felt this well for a very long time."
Dad is now nearly 3 years post transplant and is still living and enjoying life. I hate to think where we would be without his donor.
Dad With My Son - April 2012
Honoring A Stranger
How do you talk about someone you never knew? This person has changed our lives forever and I don't even know if my dad's donor was male or female. Yet, without this stranger, who knows where we would be today?
Dad has sent a letter to the donor family, thanking them for this gift but they have not responded. In many ways I can't blame them for leaving the letter unanswered - I'm sure if they could change things their loved one would still be with them. I hope it gives them some measure of comfort to know that their loved one has made such an impact in our lives (and probably many others).
I don't know how to honor a stranger but I do pray for Dad's donor daily as well as his/her family. I know my dad prays that he will do good with the second chance he has been given and that the rest of his life will be a legacy for his anonymous donor. I suppose, that is the best we can do for this amazing person who became a hero by donating life.
The other thing we can do to honor this anonymous hero is be advocates for Donor Registration. Here's a message from my dad about registering as an organ and tissue donor:
"On Friday October 19th it will be one year since my donor lost their life and donated the kidney that gave me a new life. The unknown donor is my hero, and in order to honor this hero, if you aren't already, would you consider becoming an organ and tissue donor? If you are interested simply go to Donate Life and click "Register Now".
You can provide hope for the more than 115,000 men, women and children waiting for organ transplants to save their lives. Thousands more are in need of tissue and cornea transplants to restore their mobility and sight. Register to be an organ, eye and tissue donor today and provide hope to those who wait."
Image Credit: www.Donatelife.net
Resources For Organ Donation
- The National Kidney Foundation, Inc.
Dedicated to preventing kidney and urinary tract diseases, improving the health and well-being of individuals and families affected by kidney disease and increasing the availability of all organs for transplantation.
- Donate Life America
The official resource page for enrolling in organ donation, tissue donation or cornea donation with your state...
- US Division of Transplantation
DoT is the primary federal entity responsible for oversight of the organ and blood stem cell transplant systems in the U.S. and for initiatives to increase the level of organ donation in this country.
Do you know someone who is waiting for or has received an organ transplant? Are you or your family members organ donors? Share it here! :)