Donated a kidney August 9, 1996 to her younger sister.
My younger sister was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at 2 years old. By age 22, she was in full kidney failure. Valeri lost sight in her left eye and was on dialysis. Dialysis was failing and she had only weeks to months to live. I had to save my sister. There was no choice but to donate. I was Valeri's donor as I was truly her only hope to live. She needed a kidney and needed it quickly.
In 1996, there wasn't very much awareness regarding kidney donation, not many resources, no social media awareness and very little internet resources available regarding transplantation and donor related help. I had to take the steps and plead to UCLA to donate. My sister had been placed on the transplant list where she carried a pager if a kidney became available. I contacted her transplant coordinator and asked if I could be tested. The first response was that because we were half sisters I would likely not be a match.
I was 26 years old with 4 small children (8 & 7 yr old son's & twin daughter's 4 years old). The testing was extensive and each test was a 3 hour plus drive to UCLA Medical Center. Financially, my sister's insurance paid for much of the transplant whereas the Kidney Transplant Center Fund at UCLA paid for what was not covered. After the transplant for me it was very difficult. I had a 13" incision (nearly cut in half - they now do donor laparoscopic surgery). I had to learn to walk, sit, bend. I ended up having to quit my job because the recovery process was extremely difficult. UCLA Medical Center transplant teams named me "The Pitcher" & Valeri "The Catcher"
In all honesty, the process to be a living kidney donor was rather grueling. By the time I began testing she had likely only 8 weeks to live as dialysis wasn't successful. I truly didn't have much time to prepare. The only real change in preparing for the transplant for me was that I stopped a daily habit of drinking diet coke and began drinking lots of water. I also took a leave of absence from work as I wanted to spend time with my sister and 4 small children prior to the transplant date. In 1996, the kidney donation was very invasive vs the laparoscopic techniques today.
As far as my support system goes, my mother was so thankful (deceased in 2010) that she would see her daughter live as she had witnessed Valeri deteriorating rapidly before her eyes. Many were not supportive of my decision because I had 4 small children. Due to I believe the time (1996) there was little support especially for myself. Looking back now, as I recovered, I felt quite alone. UCLA gave me 1 follow up appointment after the surgery and seemed to be disposed of shortly after. Not a thank you, a button etc... Today you see the awareness and appreciation for donor's. Whether it's a certificate, decal, some recognition but back then there was so little support in relation to the donor.
Encouragement wise I would have to say that our lives here on earth may not be forever but if we can give or add life to someone for days, months and even years.... we have succeeded in love and selflessness. Compassion and love for others can change and save lives. My advice to someone considering being a kidney donor is to do your research, join living donor groups and trust your heart.
Being a kidney donor to my sister gave me the opportunity to watch my mother with Valeri for another 14 years of my mother's life. I'm so thankful that my mother didn't have to bury her child. I believe that changed my mother's life. I have also been able to have peace within me that August 28, 2017 my sister celebrated her 46th Birthday. Since the transplant, she has suffered 2 strokes, 2 cardiac infractions, leg bypass, labial cancer, (likely due to anti rejection medications) amputation and many other health issues but the kidney has remained well. I thank God for that.
Location: Hemet, CA