I have never liked the little blue donor card but I have always filled it out when renewing my driver’s license. The permission card is a ‘deceased donor’ card allowing your organs, your eyes, your whole body to be donated to a recipient, or to science. The thought at the back of my mind as I filled out the card was often that the shoe could end up on the other foot. Still, the notion of that possibility didn’t prepare me for when the shoe did in fact end up on the other foot.
My husband was diagnosed with progressive kidney disease. The best option for treatment was a new kidney. I suddenly thought of organ donation in a new light, because I now found myself wondering about ‘living kidney donation.’
Could I donate a kidney? It did not take long to decide. I had to try.
From the get-go I understood kidneys were vital to survival. I knew very little else about the functions of the kidney and whether I had the potential to donate to my loved one. I vaguely knew you needed to “match” the recipient, but what more was there to donating? I did a little research and then approached the team at Transplant Manitoba, at the Health Sciences Centre.
Winnipeg’s Health Sciences is renowned as the regional renal treatment centre. That was reassuring. I met the living donor coordinator, who is very competent and compassionate.
I passed the initial screening and my husband and I were a blood match; astounding. When I met the donors’ medical team, however, they made it clear we had a long way to go, and it would not be a cake walk.
I did not have high blood pressure before the testing began, but I definitely was hypertensive once the screening was underway. Beyond the fear of the unknown risks, I found navigating that sprawling maze of buildings, old and new, with plenty of construction all around, was a challenge unto itself. The maze was nothing, though, compared to the ambulatory blood pressure monitoring: by the third twenty-four hour test, I was a basket case.
The screening covered everything, mental and physical. The hospital professionals took pains every step of the way to explain what they were doing and why. I began to know my way around the hospital and sometimes recognized hospital staff in the hall. That was comforting.
I was interested in what the medical people were doing. I was focused and entirely composed until the technician or the specialist asked who the recipient would be. Then, it was kind of Niagara Falls – instant on. I choked out my words, I cried softly, and the machines hummed or whirred or flashed, or whatever they needed to do.
Just when I thought the screening would never end, I was approved. It was unbelievable.
Seven weeks later, my husband and I went into surgery.
When I awoke afterwards, I felt the way I did after the birth of my children. I was in pain, but it was all magical. I knew I had experienced a miracle.
My four laparoscopic scars are growing faint, but I love them. They are proof to me that I really did this: I donated the organ.
At 7 am, the morning of the surgery, the transplant surgeon had written, “Right Kidney” on my arm. During recovery, my daughter took a picture of those words. I am so thankful she did. I need that proof. The body heals so magnificently, I feel no different; I need reminders that the transplant happened.
The medical staff at the Health Sciences Centre granted me the privilege to offer my husband, and my family, this very special gift. Yes, I was truly afraid before the surgery. I put my affairs in order. I knew quite clearly there was risk in what I was doing. I was putting my life in the hands of strangers, but what a lucky gamble: the odds were with us and they paid off!
I can see now that the people who show up for work every day at the hospitals are heroes. Every day they show up for work, and they perform miracles. They do this for people they barely know. I am one who owes them more than words can ever express.
I can’t thank Transplant Manitoba enough. Even more, beyond what they do for those of us who so desperately need their help, they celebrate the donors. On June 23, 2014, Transplant Manitoba held the Tree of Life Ceremony to honour transplant donors – “those who gave us the gift of life.” The event explained the metaphor. We are all a part of the tree, and sometimes, when we least expect it, we may have the opportunity to play a role in each other’s lives.
I am still carrying the blue card indicating my intention to donate, but I have branched out, you might say. I now have registered my intentions in an electronic database at Transplant Manitoba at signupforlife.ca. Nowadays, it really is that simple.
At the Tree of Life Ceremony, we learned that up to eight lives are saved from one deceased donor. We also learned that each of us in our lifetime is more likely to need an organ than to donate one. The way I feel now, if I had another spare kidney, I’d donate again in a flash. And I have no doubt, if you were in my shoes, you would do the same.