Lying on a cot in a triage room full of my family, I gazed up and locked eyes with a pre-operative nurse I had just met. “This is the ultimate selfless act and will be one of the best decisions you make”, he said. He donated his kidney to his wife ten years prior, and today I would do the same for my older brother. He spoke these words during my most vulnerable state, as I prepared to enter a donor nephrectomy surgery. Although I heard his thoughtful encouragement that morning, it did not fully resonate with me until weeks after. Even a year later, I am still grasping many aspects of my kidney donation journey—why I did it, what I’ve learned from it, and what it means to donate without fear.
My brother was sick with CKD for a couple of years, and it always weighed heavy on my shoulders. It is devastating to see someone you love endure struggle. For too long I felt his burdens and wished they’d disappear. When a kidney transplant was first brought up, he was not yet on dialysis. His nephrologist emphasized the benefit of avoiding dialysis, if possible, but he’d need to find a kidney donor for preemptive transplant.
My close-knit family of five immediately took action to learn about the donor screening process. We learned that a living-related donor was the best option for finding an HLA tissue match, which has the lowest change of transplant rejection. I was eager to find out if I was a match, mostly because I saw this as a way that I could finally help after years of just watching and waiting. Donating my kidney could lessen my brother’s burdens and drastically improve his health and future.
On a lunch break from work one day, the Dallas Transplant Institute called me to tell me I was the same blood type as my brother, as well as a 50% HLA match. While 50% on a math test not a good score, it’s a promising one in the kidney-matching world! I was the closest match out of our family and would be the one who gets to donate my kidney. I was relieved, empowered, and hopeful about this opportunity. This was one of the best phone calls I’ve ever received, and I couldn’t wait to share the news—especially with my brother.
As the lengthy, comprehensive donor screening process began, doctors tested me for just about every disease or condition imaginable, looking for any reason to rule me out as a donor. Living donors must be in utmost health to lose an organ. In addition, the donated kidney must be functioning completely normal—or even better—to provide for a transplant recipient. My initial fears of donation were mostly focused on the potential long-term consequences of living with one kidney. I took steps to educate myself and learned that my health would be just about the same. Additionally, the multitude of lab tests and exams were negative (and in medicine, negative is good!). It was very reassuring to learn that I was eligible for a nephrectomy and its short- and long-term risks were minute.
Our surgeries were scheduled for December 27th, 2019, making for a very unique, special, and somewhat anxious Christmas holiday. I was happy to have a surgery date, but also very nervous. Around Thanksgiving, we began telling relatives and friends, majority of whom had no idea my brother was sick—a testament to the insidious nature of CKD. We were flooded with an outpouring of love, prayers, and support from everyone. I truly could not have made it through this time without the encouragement of our ‘cheerleaders’. It was the perfect portrayal of the true meaning of the Thanksgiving and Christmas season.
Our surgeries were successful, thanks to modern medicine and our talented surgical/medical team. Family members waited patiently for hours—my parents overwhelmed with anxiety of two children in simultaneous operations. Everyone was relieved when the surgeons emerged with good news.
Recovery was the next battle, and it was a tough fight. I expected it to be challenging, but not that difficult. Knowing I’d stay in the hospital for a couple of days, I packed a ‘hospital bag’ with clothes and tennis shoes, planning to walk down to the cafeteria frequently. During my hospital stay, however, walking and eating were the last things on my mind. As awful as I felt initially, I really turned the corner after the first week. I regained my appetite, strength, and sense of normalcy. Within a month I returned to work. The healing capacity of my body was enormous, and I felt proud of my progress. It was especially fulfilling to see how much better my brother felt.
Moving forward, I have committed myself to lifelong health. I often reflect on my donation experience, realizing it has forever improved my outlook on life. Each day, I am thankful for my opportunity to donate, for continued health of myself and my brother, for our community of support, and for our transplant team at Methodist Dallas.