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Donor Stories

A Gift to my Brother

My name is Karen and I am a 44 year old mother of four. On June 29, 2006 I became a living kidney donor. It was about six years ago that my 30 year old brother was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure. The doctors told him that within a few years he would have to go on dialysis or find someone to donate a kidney to him.

Within five years of that diagnosis, his kidneys were working at less then 10% normal function and it was obvious that the doctors needed to do something immediately. It was time to start looking for a donor. I knew right away that I wanted to do whatever I could to help Mike. I made the phone call to University of Cincinnati Hospital where he was being treated, and I began the communication with the transplant coordinator. In April of 2006 my testing began with a lot of blood work to see if I would be a compatible donor for him. While I waited, I also did a lot of research on what kidney donation entailed. I also got in contact with another kidney donor to hear his personal experience.

After two weeks, I found out that I was a good match for Mike and other testing began. I did more blood tests, urine samples, chest x-ray, and CT scan, all of which came back fine and I was officially approved to be his kidney donor. I met with the transplant coordinator several times, spoke to the anesthesiologist, the recovery room nurses, psychologist, and the surgeon who would perform the surgery. All of these were very thorough in answering my many questions.

The days leading up to surgery, I found myself trying to keep very busy. I took long walks, read books, and kept a journal of my experience. The night before surgery, I met with my brother for a special celebration. I bought a special card for him, and in it, I taped a kidney bean. On the outside it read, “A gift for you.” I also taped a bow to my back, over my left kidney. My kidney was to be his special gift. We laughed and kidded each other about what life would be like with one kidney. I jokingly teased that he might have to start sitting down like a girl to go to the bathroom now. Or take a friend to the bathroom with him. Or start having to go all the time! We made some special memories that night.

I was having the laparoscopic surgery done. I had 3 small inch-long incisions where they put their instruments and a four-inch incision on my lower left bikini line where they helped pull my kidney out. My surgery took 2 hours and my brother’s about 4. When I awoke in recovery, they took me to my room where I was greeted by my family and several friends. The nurse brought me a morphine pump which I could press every 10 minutes if I needed extra pain medicine. I was very groggy the first 24 hours and slept when I could. I was encouraged when my brother was given a room several doors down from mine. I made it a priority to walk to his room to see him the next day. It was very painful even with my “squishy pillow” that I carried with me. But it was worth it all to see my brother and my kidney working fine in him! We even shared breakfast together one morning and tried very hard not to laugh, because that hurt so much! I was up and ready to go to home on the second full day after surgery. Mike did have a rough couple of days adjusting to the new kidney, the new medications and all, but after 10 days, he was finally strong enough to go home also.

I had a lot of support from friends and family throughout the whole experience. I got up and started walking, very slowly at first, but gradually increased me strength. I went back to work after 4 weeks and napped often. My brother was able to go back to work after 8 weeks. He is now running again – a passion of his – and he is very active as a Scout leader.

I thank the Lord that I was given the opportunity to share the gift of life with my brother. It was a most rewarding experience to know that I was able to help him, although I never could have dreamed that would be to donate a kidney. Some people said they didn’t think I should do it. I said, how could I not share with someone when I have the gift to share? Others said I was a hero. But I’m really just an ordinary person who was given an opportunity and I took it. My life is better because of this experience, and not much has changed for me. I am still able to enjoy the things I love – walking and liturgical dance. I definitely have no regrets and I would love to encourage others who are in the same situation or have any questions about being a kidney donor.

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