By Deb Donelson, two-time kidney recipient
When I was 16, I found out I was born with only one kidney. My parents and I were surprised, because I had always been healthy. I continued on my path of good health until my mid-twenties when I started to see a nephrologist.
By the time I reached age 27, I was regularly seeing my nephrologist. It was then he told me I would most likely need a kidney transplant by the time I turned 43. I thought, “Okay, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.” But lo and behold, when I turned 42, reality hit – my kidney was only functioning at 5 percent or less and I needed a transplant to live.
Fate then stepped in. My dad is in real estate and overheard a conversation between his co-workers. One co-worker stated their daughter was testing to donate a kidney, and didn’t have a recipient. Dad joined the conversation and asked if he thought their daughter would like to donate to me. This began my journey toward a new kidney.
Within days I was talking with my potential donor. She said it has been in her heart to donate a kidney and that she would like to be tested to be my living donor. I was shocked and elated! She began testing and the day before Thanksgiving 2012, we learned we were a match! More tests continued and a transplant date was finally set for February 13, 2013. We thought the day before Valentine’s Day was appropriate since her last name is Love.
Everything about the transplant went smoothly for both of us. My donor was healthy and healing well. I remember waking up from surgery and immediately feeling better! It was as if everything was clear – like the fog I had been looking through was lifted. I felt like myself again.
My gifted kidney did its job and kept me healthy. Unfortunately, in October of 2014 it began to fail and a short time later I was forced to begin dialysis. Going through dialysis was miserable and restrictive, but I was thankful for an intervention to keep me going. I went three times a week for four hours at a time. I felt awful about “losing” the kidney that had been so generously donated to me. It took me a long time to have the conversation with my donor about the rejection.
Fast forward to May 7, 2016, my husband and I were getting ready to go out to dinner and watch the Kentucky Derby. He heard my phone ring and saw it was the Ohio State Transplant Center calling. He gave me the phone and I thought, “Why are they calling me on a Saturday?” As it turned out, they were calling to offer me a kidney! It never occurred to me that I would actually get that call – I honestly didn’t even remember being placed on the national transplant waiting list!
I remember going to the hospital in a state of disbelief. The next thing I knew, I was awake and feeling 100 percent better! Within a day I was up and walking and went home four days following transplant. I was also drinking everything I wanted, which is something I couldn’t do on dialysis – it was exciting to be able to eat and drink as I pleased!
After being so sick and fatigued since losing my first kidney, I got back to my life the day after transplant. All thanks to someone – my hero – who had the forethought to register as an organ donor.
Thanks to both of my donors, I am alive and enjoying time with family and friends. My first donor’s gift made it possible for me to get married and live for my second lifesaving transplant. I am forever indebted to the two selfless individuals who have enabled me to live a full, healthy and happy life. Please consider registering as an organ, eye and tissue donor today.