There is a lot of preparation involved with donating a kidney. First and foremost, you must ensure that you are adequately matched with your recipient and that you are healthy enough to donate. This involves many, many appointments at the transplant clinic. First, you get your blood drawn, and they cross match that with your recipient. Once you are a match, you decide whether or not you want to proceed to be the donor. In my case, I was one of two matches. Both my sister and I were matched to my dad, but her and I decided that I would be the best donor because she is a massage therapist and needs her body for work, more so than myself. I am currently in school and have much more flexibility to take time off from "life" to recover.
Once you are identified as the donor, you proceed with the "Mother of all Health Assessments." Your assessment includes the following:
- a 24 hour urine clearance test, in which you must collect all of your urine over a 24 hour period and then you bring it into the hospital for processing, which reveals your kidney function.
- Blood tests - LOTS of blood tests. Luckilly I have garden hoses for veins (that's what one nurse told me) so getting blood drawn is a cinch. At my last blood test, my phlebotomist didn't even use a tourniquet!
- Chest X-Ray
- CT scan of your kidney with contrast dye
- Meetings with a nephrologist, a psychologist, the surgeon and my donor coordinator nurse.
- I also had to have my annual physical, with a pap smear and if I were over 40, I would have needed a mammogram as well. (But I'm 35, so I didn't need that).
Finally, once this is all done, you are cleared, and you are ready to go, you schedule the surgery and then have to report to the surgical suite and the transplant unit for pre-op procedures. This day-long event was yesterday. At this appointment:
- They draw more blood (they actually had to draw from me twice!)
- Another EKG
- Another Chest X-Ray
- Anesthesia intake with the NP
- Surgical interview with an RN
- Meeting with the surgeon
- Meeting with the donor coordinator nurse.
Throughout the process, you learn a lot. As a future NP (one more year!), I asked a ton of questions and each staff member I dealt with was so patient and so helpful in helping me understand the process.
A larger part of the preparation period for me has been to get myself in great shape. To be honest, I've never really been in BAD shape (not in a long time at least...), but I wasn't feeling my best. I focused on eating better, training in a more well-rounded manner and setting a goal event for the weekend prior to surgery (this was the 13Relay I ran last weekend). In the process, I dropped 8 lbs and feel as though I have a handle on some of my bad habits (like too much sugar and diet soda!) that I wanted to break before having to sit still for an extended period of time. I've always been able to get away with some of my bad habits because my exercise volume is pretty high, but that will change quickly, and I didn't want to look back and say "I stopped exercising but my diet didn't change, and oh shit, I gained xxxxx lbs". That happens to a lot of athletes who retire and then take an extended break from exercise. Next thing they know, they've gained weight and feel guilty for letting it happen. It happened to me once. I had broken my ankle my senior year in high school. I then had four surgeries over a two year period as a result of the ankle fracture. Fifty (50!!) lbs later, I was fat, out of shape and miserable. I was a fat kid and high school athletics helped me overcome part of my weight problem. Or so I thought. Here I was, a sophomore in college, and my weight problem had returned with a vengeance. It took me YEARS, but I overcame it again. I never want to have to fight that fight again.
So now I sit, poised with a much greater body of knowledge, a much stronger sense of discipline, and future goals that I decided upon in my preparation process. And while my fears of a historical repeat still silently mull in the back of my mind, I have a much greater sense of confidence in myself that I was ultimately come out stronger from this experience, physically and mentally.