A Letter to Kidney Transplant Recipient
What do you write to a person who received your kidney?
I donated a kidney on December 6, 2021. I can’t recall exactly when the idea came to me, but I remember hearing about people donating money or blood, so I thought, what am I doing with my life to help people?
I earn a good salary, but I haven’t been diligent about donating significant amounts of money to various organizations or causes. I gave blood a few times, but I didn’t make too much effort to donate regularly there, either. Nearing 40 at the time, I thought, why not donate an organ, and kidneys were the main organ that I heard people could donate.
I have worked hard in establishing a healthy lifestyle through marathon running, weightlifting, and preparing all my meals at home; thus, I felt confident in my health status to pursue this donation. I started the donation screenings in 2017 but took a hiatus after coming out as transgender and choosing to medically transition. Nevertheless, the goal hovered in the back of my brain until July 2021.
I need to do this and why not now?
I completed the screening form with the hospital and got a call about a week later, verifying some of my health information. Within the course of a one month, I completed all my medical tests and even spent a day at the hospital completing all the required screenings there. I got approved in August 2021.
Now that the background of why would a person do this is out there, what was the process like?
I chose to be an anonymous donor, and the only information I received about the person who was matched with me was that he was an adult male. The team also informed me that this person would be present the day of my surgery and would be immediately prepared for surgery once they opened me up and confirmed that I was clear to donate. This information inspired me going into surgery. I kept envisioning the doctors carrying out my kidney in the palms of their hands (they don’t do this) and walking it over to place directly into the recipient. I also savored just knowing that we were so close to each other even though we couldn’t meet. I wasn’t going through this alone.
I had to sign many different forms, which made me feel like I was signing my life away in a sense. I processed the rare possibility of dying, which I published in another blog article, so I arrived for surgery feeling calm. As the medical staff helped me maneuver over onto the table for my surgery in the operating room, the staff joked about my casual demeanor in addition to humoring themselves with my various tattoos. The anesthesiologist placed a mask over my face, and I went to sleep.
Despite all the thorough information provided and my serenity going in, the aftermath proved challenging. I can’t say that it was harder than I expected because I knew that it would be hard; however, it was hard.
My abdomen swelled up with the gas they used to inflate my belly during surgery, and the bloating produced constant waves of pain and discomfort. As an active person, I am good about standing up and walking, but I didn’t want to get out of bed. In fact, the day after surgery, I only walked about two times, always hunched over.
The team seemed conservative with administering pain medications. I mostly received Tylenol and some Oxycodone. I have a strong pain tolerance and appreciate that they didn’t overuse pain medications. However, I was a little disappointed in the degree of pain management received. I experienced a significant degree of less pain during my top surgery in 2019.
The staff left it up to me to determine when I would leave the hospital. I felt uncomfortable with this process because since I was a donor, I was not responsible for any of the costs. Consequently, I felt like if I stayed, I was raking up a huge bill, which triggered guilt in me. I chose to stay another night and planned on trying to leave the next afternoon.
I felt ready to leave the next day and took a shower; however, the pain still lingered. I got discharged about the same time that I was due to take more pain medications, but instead of taking them, I got too focused on leaving and forgot. When I sat in the wheelchair, discomfort engulfed me. By the time we reached the exit, I hurt.
The car ride back to the hotel where we stayed proved torturous. Every bump or turn sent spikes of pain through my abdomen. I panted because it hurt to breath deeply, but I tried to breath anyway to help manage the pain. When we reached the hotel, I couldn’t walk, stand, sit, or even lay down. Everything felt agonizing. As the pain consumed me, my thoughts fluttered to my husband, Joe, and the impact of my vulnerability on him.
I traveled for my surgery, so I did not have the luxury of recovering in my home. I stayed for another five days in a hotel. I had stayed in a hotel previously to recover from surgery; therefore, I figured this time would be no different. However, I did not have a comfortable chair to stretch out my torso, nor did I want to lay down in bed; hence, I never really got comfortable. I managed to walk a few laps around the hotel’s interior as exercise. On that Friday, I finally pooped and the gas in my abdomen diminished, sending a huge wave of relief through me. I thought the battle was over.
I didn’t struggle too much with the 11-hour commute home to Montana that we divided into two days. I felt comfortable in my own home, able to stretch out plenty on my recliner. However, when I did some walking on the treadmill two days later, a sharp, excruciating pain developed in my right side, by the rib cage. Breathing hurt substantially, and I could not get up, stand, or lay down without pain. I feared that I had pneumonia.
I never saw a doctor, but the pain in my ribs continued for a total of 10 days. I realized that when I walked, I hunched over since my abdomen was swollen and sore, causing me to overcompensate my side muscles. I believe that the pain in my ribs resulted from a pulled muscle. This pain filled me with discouragement, depression, and negativity. One week before I was scheduled to return to work, the pain had not ceased, making me fear that I would not be able to return to work.
Conducting my own research, I started deep breathing exercises in which I would slowly breath in as deep as I could, hold it, and slowly release it. I also carefully stretched my side muscles. These exercises seemed to ease the pain after a week, and fortunately, my muscle recovered before I returned to work.
Here I am, seven weeks post-surgery. My scars are itchy and still have little hard balls underneath them, which is normal. I am running again. I started weightlifting and resuming my ab work. I am back to normal. But now that leaves the next step: what do I write to my recipient?
I thought about some amusing ways to open.
Hey, you have my kidney.
Someone gave you a kidney, and guess what? It was me!
I think we have this incredibly unique bond in which you have my organ. Isn’t that cool?
Do I write this short autobiography of myself? Does this person care what I do for a living? Do I write about how I wanted to give more to humanity?
Worse, what if this person is not doing well? What if my kidney is not working? I have no way to know the medical information of my recipient. What if my letter is meant to bring joy but only brings pain?
I’ve thought about keeping it short, like a paragraph. Instead, this is what I wrote:
I really do not know what to write in this letter. I am honored that you received a kidney and that I was able to be the one to provide it. I think kidney donation from living donors is so important, and I want to encourage more people to donate, and hopefully, more people to give a blind donation. Thus, I not only donated to help a person, but I want to share my experience so that more people donate. Also, I am a healthy person who felt that my risks in doing this were minimal.
Recovery was very challenging, and I knew that it would be. However, I want you to know that when I struggled in my recovery, I thought of you as a source of strength. I kept telling myself that one month of pain or discomfort was a small price to pay for the opportunities that my kidney may provide my recipient. I also thought of you when I was getting prepared for surgery because I knew that you were close by. Thus, I felt that you were with me in these moments.
I hope that you are recovering well. Seven weeks later, I still feel good about this choice. Even if I never know your name or anything about you, I will always think of you. I also cherish this experience because it connected me with another kind of giving. Thank you for sharing in this experience with me.
I hope this article is helpful for anyone considering donation. I am also open to speak to anyone more about my experience. Donating is difficult and needs to be approached realistically; however, it was worth it for me. Thanks for reading!