In the spring of 2012, my niece was placed on the organ transplant list. She needed a kidney. For two years, dialysis was a part of her life for three days each and every week. This took its toll and left her weak, nauseated and unable to live the life that a woman of 29 should live. The root cause of her health issues began in her childhood with the onset of Type 1 diabetes at age 10.
The day her name was placed on the transplant list, she sent an email out to friends and family members letting them know about it. She then threw out the notion that if anyone was interested in seeing if they were a match for donation, they could now do so.
Of course, the next day, several of us called the Kovler Kidney Transplant Division of North-western Memorial Hospital in Chicago. The first round of questions eliminated everyone but me as a potential donor. Forms were sent. Tests were conducted. Screenings took place. Evaluations of mental capacity were performed. Every step of the way I thought something would discontinue my involvement. But God had a plan, and I kept taking another step forward.
The blood work was extensive. The lab collected 10 vials on my first visit to rule out any deficiencies that would halt the donor process then and there. All cancer screening tests had to be current and normal. Both a CT-scan and an EKG were taken.
After four months of exams and procedures, I learned that I was a match and would have the privilege of donating an organ to my niece.
On Friday, July 13, 2012, a kidney was removed from my body and placed into hers. That fact still amazes me. It took surgeons two and a half hours to remove the kidney. It took six hours to transplant it into my niece. My procedure was done laparoscopically. Hers, as you can imagine, was much more serious and invasive. I was released from the hospital the next day. She was monitored closely for four days before being sent home.
This is what I want to share. Organ donation is not as taxing on the donor’s body as one would assume. Yes, there are always risks involved with surgery. However, hospitals that specialize in transplants do these procedures every day. An entire floor of that Chicago hospital was designated for kidney transplant patients, and the rooms were all occupied. The pain I felt the day after the operation was equivalent to a hard punch in the gut. Air is pumped into your stomach during surgery, and that is uncomfortable for a while. Other than that, you feel quite normal in a week to 10 days.
My niece did have a few complications after surgery. It was scary and lots of prayers were lifted initially so that her body wouldn’t reject the kidney. But today, a year later, she is doing exceptionally well, is back in school and enjoying a new lease on life.
Today more than 100,000 individuals are on waiting lists for an organ transplant. About 4,500 people die each year waiting. People only need one kidney to live. When I started inquiring about being a donor, the first thing that I thought would eliminate me was my age. At 52, I was no spring chicken. However, age isn’t as much an issue as health is. A friend of mine who is 63 was a donor at the KU Medical Center for a family member a few months after my experience. Don’t let your age stop you from at least taking the first step toward donating. If you are healthy, please check into it further by emailing www.kid-ney.org. The need is great, and it truly is life-changing for all involved.
Mary Mertz is a family member of River Creek Farms east of Manhattan.