During a phone conversation in February 2005, Kirsten sounded sad on the telephone so I asked, “What’s wrong?”
“We just found out that Rachel’s kidneys are failing and she’s going to need a transplant.”
Rachel, Kirsten’s niece, was diagnosed with Focal Segmental Sclerosis, an autoimmune disease, when she was only 5 years old. The prognosis of this rare degenerative disease indicated that it was inevitable that Rachel would be in need of a kidney transplant at or around the age of 17 and so, while incredibly sad, it did not come as a surprise to her friends and family. However, the words were still shocking to hear.
Kirsten went on to explain that Rachel would need a donor with an O positive blood type but that, so far, family members were not compatible for transplant consideration.
“I’m O positive.” I blurted out. “Could I be tested?”
I do not recall Kirsten’s immediate answer to my question but I do remember hanging up and feeling a weird mixture of calmness and elation. I just knew in my heart, before being tested or having any other type of medical confirmation that I was going to be the one to help Rachel. It made no logical sense. There was no evidence to support my belief but I was certain enough to make a phone call to the transplant center and set up the preliminary blood tests.
Have you ever experienced a deep-rooted knowledge that you were doing God’s will, or walking hand-in-hand without fear, in obedience, with your Creator? It leaves you with a peace that passes all understanding.
The initial tests results, blood type and crossmatch, gave proof that this was a miracle in the making.
Once medicine confirmed what God was telling me, I set out to share the news with my parents and family members. I wanted to support throughout this process and I was met with a very mixed reaction. Understandably, my folks did not want to see me risk my life, especially considering the number of children who call me “Mom”. It was a rollercoaster ride of assurances and information sharing. I felt very loved and cared for during this time, but I knew that in the end it would have to be my own choice, however popular or unpopular.
In July of 2005, Stacy, Kirsten and I made an early morning trip to the University of Minnesota Transplant Center. I underwent a shocking amount of blood tests, EKG for my heart, chest x-ray and renal CT scan, and my personal favorite, an evaluation with a social worker whose job it was to make sure I was going into this with informed consent and with no undue pressure from family or friends. All this to prove what was so clear to me from the beginning. I did not have hepatitis, AIDS, anemia, the Bubonic Plague or the dozens of other diseases they were looking for. I had clear lungs, a normal heartbeat, two kidneys with two arteries going into and one vein coming from each organ.
One week later, I received the phone call saying that I was approved for donation.
If I thought waiting was difficult, imagine what Rachel and her mother, Nancy, were experiencing. Rachel eventually had to go on dialysis three times per week and being a student in high school was nearly impossible. Rachel was too tired to stay awake for more than a couple hours at a time. She could not go to the mall with friends or on family outings at holidays. She was undergoing complications of her medications and losing weight she could not afford because of dietary restrictions. Her blood test results left Nancy believing her daughter could die at any moment, which made going to work excruciating.
I made several calls to the transplant coordinator, sometimes in tears, asking for answers. It was a terribly helpless feeling being told that we just had to wait for Rachel to get sick enough.
April 20th, 2006. I received the long-awaited phone call on March 9th telling me that the surgery had finally been scheduled six weeks out. Finally! Now we had something firm to grasp; something concrete. I made plans with Kirsten and Stacy for childcare. I started a regimen of vitamins and increased water intake, determined to make my kidney as healthy as possible. I scheduled a day of testing which encompassed the full battery of my previous tests and finally, a week before the surgery date, Rachel developed a fever, an infection of her port site was causing all sorts of difficulty for her. The transplant nurse called me:
“Jennine, Rachel is going to need a full month of IV antibiotics. We need to reschedule for May 17th.”
I was thankful that they were being cautious and grateful it wasn’t postponed because of something on my end. The next day I developed a fever of my own along with a full blown case of influenza.
God was surely protecting us both.
May 17th, 2006 After doing the surgical prep the night before, I was ready to be put under anesthesia. It was a rather sleepless night for me, but not because of nerves or panic. I was just a prisoner of the bathroom. Darren and I left at 4 AM for the hospital and the car ride down was unusually quiet.
“I’m going to want a Starbucks Iced Venti Non-Fat Vanilla Chai Tea when I wake up. And I want you in the room when I come out of anesthesia.”
“Sure. No problem.”
“And I want a picture of my kidney.”
“Okay. Tell the doctor.”
“And they need to know I tend to wake up fast from surgery”
“Tell him that, too”
I spent the rest of the time wondering how Rachel and Nancy were coping.
When we arrived, we found Rachel and Nancy waiting in the transplant waiting room. It was odd to see them sit in a room filled with other people. I remember thinking “Shouldn’t we all be in isolation considering the infection thing?”
I was called back to the surgical prep room first, as my surgery began a full hour before Rachel’s. After all the normal prep was finished, my mom and Aunt Diane joined me, followed by Stacy and Kirsten. It was a crowded room filled with love and prayer. We prayed for the outcome to be good and thanked God for the miracle of life. My mom, overwhelmed with emotion, left before I could say what I wanted to say to her. Then Rachel came in to thank me for something we both do not fully understand to this day. I choked back the flood of emotion I was feeling, not wanting to give the impression that I was afraid or having doubt. It was a moment I will never forget.
I had a moment to speak with the anesthesiologist:
“I come out of surgery quickly. I wake easily.”
“Good. Are you allergic to anything?”
“Then we best avoid that, right?”
“And I want Darren in the recovery room when I wake up.”
“I’m sorry. That is against our policy. You’ll see him very soon after you wake up.”
Then the surgeon:
“Hold out your hands for me” I demanded.
She did. They seemed steady.
“Have you had much coffee today?” I enquired.
“No. Not yet anyway.” she said with a smile.
“I’d really like a picture of my kidney before you transplant it.”
“Well, that’s going to be difficult. We don’t have a camera at the ready.”
I turned to Darren and said, “I sure hope you have the Starbucks ready when I wake up because, really, I’m not making much progress with the medical staff.”
“Don’t worry. You’ll get your Starbucks.”
I was then brought to the surgical suite, which was much smaller and colder than I had anticipated. Everyone was busy with preparation and I remember the words, “We just gave you medication which will make you sleepy.”
I felt the coolness of the tears on my hot cheeks before I opened my eyes. It hurt to take a breath and then I realized that my intubation tube was still in place. I moved my hand to try to get the attention of the person sitting at the end of my bed, writing in a chart. He looked up and said “Well, you’re coming around fast, aren’t you. Hold on and I’ll go get the doctor.”
“No s***, you effing idiot,” I thought as I laid suffering while he carefully capped the pen he was holding in his hand.
He came back with the anesthesiologist who made nice about removing the breathing apparatus.
“Try to cough as I pull on this tube.”
I obeyed and felt a searing pain in my side. The pen capper attending to me said “We haven’t had a chance to give you pain relief yet. Let me go get something for you.”
My first thought after that was “Is Rachel okay?” I realized I had said it aloud when the doctor said “She’s still in surgery, but you’ll be the first to know when she’s out.”
After several attempts to get my pain under control, I was finally in a medicinal haze of euphoria. It gave me a chance to consider the reality of what just took place.
“I did it! I am alive and it’s done.”
I had time to thank God and think about the miracle before being transferred to my hospital room where I was met by Darren, my mother, my Aunt Diane, Kirsten, Stacy and Rachel’s Grandmother, Shirley AND an Iced Venti Non-Fat Vanilla Chai Latte! Nothing has ever, nor will ever taste so wonderful to me.
“Rachel’s out of surgery and she’s doing well.”
I can’t even remember who gave me the news, but are there any sweeter words to hear? We both survived. Statistics show that the first 24 hours reveals a lot about how a transplanted kidney will function in its new body. God let me know a long while ago that this was going to be a happy ending. I quit worrying.
Right now, I imagine Rachel is on the phone, laughing with friends about the funny things that happened this past weekend. She is tolerating the anti-rejection medications quite well and gaining in energy and strength. She is a beautiful girl who deserves to have health and happiness and I am so thankful to be a part of God’s plan for her life. We trade email occasionally. I have not seen her since our hospital stay and yet I feel a very strong connection with her. My kidney is happy in its new home. My heart is happy, too. A part of it will always belong to her. It went along with my kidney.
I share our story because I want you to consider what it means to another human being when you say yes to organ donation.
As of 9:18 PM CST there are 93,196 people on the National Organ Transplant Waiting List. These people do not get the publicity of a captured American in Iraq, but they are being held hostage by a disease no less brutal and torturous. Each number represents someone’s child, parent, grandparent, husband or wife. Each number has a story behind it.
You can help!
I was blessed enough to be part of a living-organ donation. I get to observe the impact my choice had on another human being’s life. If you would consider a similar choice, visit Donate Life for more information.
Organ donation can be as simple as checking a box on a driver’s license or filling out a donor card and having a discussion with your loved ones.
You can even make a financial contribution if that is how you feel led.
I would be so thankful if you would just consider your options. So would 93,296 other people.