Healing and Breathing. My Kidney Donation and Recovery Process

I am a fairly private person, but when it comes to the act of donating a kidney, I feel it is necessary to document and share my experience to motivate others.

I had many misconceptions and concerns about organ donation before I decided to be a living donor. For starters, I was unaware that one could lead a healthy life with only one kidney. I also never knew that kidney disease affected both kidneys, not just one. I am a woman in my early thirties who has yet to start a family, so I also had reservations about donating a kidney before having my first child. The transplant team at Montefiore Medical Center answered all my questions and put me on the path to kidney donation.

Speaking with my doctor and coordinator helped a great deal, but it was the forums and social posts that helped ease anxiety. I became well informed about the surgery and recovery process thanks to Laura's and Jackie's blog posts. Mrs Violence's Facebook and Instagram posts helped me get over my fear of getting any major scars. Dumaguete Life's YouTube videos gave me a visual perspective of what to expect during recovery.  However, it wasn't until I spoke with a living donor over the phone that I became a bit more certain about the experience.

I am extremely thankful to the kidney donor community for being a great source of strength and knowledge throughout my kidney donation process.  My goal is to pay it forward and share my experience with those struggling with the decision of becoming a donor.


Making the Decision

Becoming a donor is a personal decision, and you should not feel forced or coerced to give a part of yourself to someone else. 

I love my dad, and I wanted to give him the ability to live a better life. Everyone's experience is different, but you can read all about my motivation to donate my kidney here.  

Being a Suitable and Compatible Donor

The number one criteria for a kidney transplant is for both the donor and the recipient to be suitable for donation. We had sessions with various doctors, and had multiple exams including blood work, EKGs, CT scans and X-rays to clear us from any serious illnesses that would get worse with the surgery. 

I was very lucky to be compatible with my dad. The matching criteria is very rigorous, so we both had to take a series of tests to make sure he wouldn't reject my kidney.

Despite the match, we were both advised to lose some weight before surgery. This delayed our surgery a few months, but the wait put us on the path to a healthier lifestyle. 

Getting the Date

I was pretty chill about the donation process until I got a firm date for the surgery. For some reason, knowing the date and time of the procedure made it all more real. I had never been admitted to a hospital and was a bit of a weakling when it came to pain. For instance, I have been living with my fully impacted wisdom teeth for a few years because I've been afraid of the pain I would feel from the extraction.  

I have to admit that I panicked a little when I got the date from my kidney donor coordinator. I didn't sleep much, but I spoke with a living donor the next day and my fears immediately went away. The donor I spoke with told me about how beautiful and positive the kidney donation experience was for her and her dad. She told me that the worst part is the anxiety you feel leading up to surgery, and when I asked her about the pain, she reassured me I would be medicated and wouldn't feel much.  

The Surgery

On February 22, 2017, me and my family got up bright and early and headed to Montefiore Medical Center for our 6:00am appointment. The prep process was very quick, and by 7:00am I was all set to go for surgery.

The experience was surreal, but not at all scary. My dad and I kept each other company during the preparation, laughing at some of the bizarre moments we experienced. I was named after my dad, so in several occasions they went as far as giving me his hospital tag.  

My dad and I were put in a holding area before surgery, and after getting our vitals, they allowed our family to come see us. My mom was very emotional. After all, two very important people in her life were going under the knife. They had a very nervous student hook on my IV, and my mom and husband freaked out when a ton of blood just squirted out of my hand. A few minutes later, I said my goodbyes and walked myself to the operation room accompanied by the team of doctors who would be performing the surgery.

I had never seen an O.R. in person, and the whole thing seemed somewhat disconnected from what I had seen in movies and TV shows. The room was massive with tons of antiquated looking machines and computers. They had me lay on this thing that looked like a massage table and plugged me to a number of machines. The team was very sweet and kind. Last thing I remember was them saying they would give me something to calm me down, and that the drug would make me feel drunk. I made some joke about vodka, and before I knew it, I was completely out.

Recovery Day 1 

Before I knew what had happened, I was shaken awake by the nurse in the ICU. I remember feeling extremely cold, so they piled on three to four blankets to keep me warm. They asked me about pain, and I was surprisingly okay with the exception of a sore throat. I dozed off and in what seemed like minutes, my family came to see me. 

I asked my husband what time it was, and I remember him saying it was about 1:00PM OR 2:00pm. The surgery was only two to three hours, but I'm sure it took some time for me to wake up from the anesthesia. My dad was also out of surgery and it appeared he was doing okay. 

I had laparoscopic surgery, and according to the blogs I read, I was expecting some shoulder and back pain from the gas they fill you up with during surgery. However, I didn't feel anything which I thought was fantastic. 

I went between dozing off and seeing my family until at some point I registered a little bit of pain. The nurse gave me some morphine and I was okay for a little while. They were prepping a room for me, and I was excited about getting out of that cold and dreadful area. At some point they asked me about pain and I was still doing fine. However, when I started feeling some discomfort, the nurse told me to hold off since they were about to move me. Time went by, and after what felt like an hour, I had had enough. I became a little agitated, but to avoid any further pain, I decided to breathe it out and wait until I got a room.

They had me doing breathing exercises every hour to avoid getting pneumonia. They managed my pain with Oxycodone once I was out of the recovery area, and gave me a stool softener to help with my bowel movements.

Recovery Day 2

I didn't get much sleep the first few days after surgery because the nurses would wake me up every hour to get my blood pressure and to draw my blood. I was expected to get up and walk on day two, and surprisingly it wasn't all that difficult. It was great to get up and see my dad, and we encouraged each other to move around.

Our first walk together was a great victory. The more we walked, the faster we recovered. The doctors wanted to send me home on day two, but I didn't feel like I was ready. I was distracted throughout the day and didn't do my breathing exercises every hour. Towards the end of the day, as my family headed home, I developed a fever and had to be taken for X-rays   and given medication to bring it down.

Recovery Day 3

The next morning after having battled a bit of fever, I was cleared out of the hospital and was on my way home. I thought recovering at home would be more difficult, but I was surprisingly comfortable after laying on my bed. 

I was told to follow a low protein diet and drink tons of water to go easy on my kidney. I wasn't healthy enough to get up and cook, so my husband ordered some Boston Market. 

I fluctuated between sleeping and watching TV, and had to get comfortable with laying on my back. I was aware I had to get up and walk to recover, so I circled the area between my kitchen and living room a few times until I got bored and went back to relaxing.

Recovery Week 2

I am no longer taking pain medication, and my scars are healing nicely. However, the worst of the recovery is the gas that accumulates on your stomach which makes you feel like you're five months pregnant.

I read a few blogs and learned that the best way to ease the discomfort is to walk around and use a heating pad to ease the gas. I walked around the block three or four times, and unpacked a heating pad I had ordered from amazon but had yet to use. 

Today marks the last day of week two, and it wasn't until yesterday that I decided to start writing. I couldn't muster the energy to watch a movie, let alone write down my thoughts and feelings. It's only been a day, but this blog has both elevated my spirits and served as a source of entertainment.

Although this post has been lengthy, I hope it's helped some of you get a real perspective of the kidney donation and recovery process.