I donated a kidney for my Stepmother, Irene. However, we were not a match so we were introduced to Paired Kidney Exchange (PKE) and my kidney actually went to someone in New Jersey and she received a kidney match from someone else.
I had never heard of Paired Kidney Exchange (PKE), so the first step was researching on my own with my husband. The University of Maryland in Baltimore then mailed and emailed us more information than I could possibly consume. The hospital also provided an education meeting for living donors only, which was very informative and helpful.
I am not sure of the why exactly I decided to donate a kidney. It was an automatic reaction. My dad called to say my stepmother was in stage 4 kidney failure and would be placed on a list to receive a kidney and start dialysis. I asked if I could be tested to see if I could give her one of mine. My thought process was; I have 2 and am in pretty good health! After a tear-filled conversation with Irene, I went about finding my blood type. When I found out my stepmother, Irene, and I weren't even the same blood type, I was pretty bummed! Then one of the coordinators contacted me and asked if I would be interested in Paired Kidney Exchange. When I found out it helped 2 people, my loved one and a stranger, it was a no-brainer for me.
The process for becoming a living kidney donor was pretty easy on me. A lot of blood was drawn, a couple other lab type tests, and the like. There was one all day testing and information day at the University of Maryland, but it was all inclusive - get it all done in one day! Oh and lots of papers were signed along the way, but a lot of that was via email or when I was already there. There was also the process of finding matches for Irene and I. There were 2 other matches that didn’t go through. I would say that part was the most stressful piece of the process; hoping those other people were going to be okay.
There really wasn't much preparation for the surgery on my part other than the all day testing, etc I described above. The night before I had to do the normal surgery prep with washing and not eating, but otherwise everyone made my life as easy as possible. My husband, family and friends took care of anything I might need in the hospital. I have a pretty good support system.
My husband was definitely the most encouraging. He was the most nervous and worried in the beginning, but the more we learned, the more he relaxed. He told me over and over how proud he was of me and how brave I was. Lots of the doctors told me I was a hero. I honestly don't see myself as brave or a hero, and sometimes it made me uncomfortable because I don't know what to say. I am not good at being in the spotlight. I only saw it as helping someone when I could.
I would tell anyone considering donating a kidney to really look into it. I would emphasize that it is a surgery but definitely worthwhile and that giving someone a life will outweigh the 2 weeks of discomfort.
Being a kidney donor has not changed my day to day life, except that I do get tired a lot easier than before. I am told this will pass with time. It did however, change my outlook on life. The phrase “life is precious” has brought more meaning to me. I would also say it brought my stepmother, as well as some other family members, closer together.