Kidney Transplant Update – Surgery Day!

Thank you all who have joined my on my 2013 Flashback:  Road to My Kidney Transplant!  I have one more update after this – just in time for my 1 year kidney transplant anniversary!  To catch up on my previous kidney post click here, to catch up on all kidney posts, click here.

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October 9, 2013

In September, my entire family was ecstatic after my sister Kimberly’s blood and my blood “played nice” and she completed all her tests to qualify as my kidney donor.  We were almost set to schedule surgery; all we needed was the official approval of the Transplant Board.  On approval day, I couldn’t stop smiling – telling everyone at work and all my friends that I was finding out my surgery date that day!

And then there was no call and no call…and still no call.  Finally, I called my mom who had just hung up with Kimberly who was crying on the other end.  The Board said Kimberly was not approved because of a minor medical concern.  She wasn’t ruled out, but a specialist’s opinion was required before the Board would make a decision.  We would have to wait another two weeks for the next Board meeting for approval.  I was so touched Kimberly wanted so badly to be my donor – so I could feel better sooner – that she was brought to tears when that day had to be postponed…and Kim never cries…ever.

Although we were all a little deflated by the news, we were still hopeful.  Finally, after almost two weeks and the concern was resolved, I received the joyous news that Kimberly was officially approved by the Board and our surgery was scheduled for October 9, 2013.  WAHOO!   Me and my swollen feet were dancing on air!

To prep for surgery, Kimberly and I each met separately with our surgeon who discussed all of the risks involved.  There were a lot.  Thankfully, Kimberly’s heart is so big and so strong that she still wanted to move forward.  She joked that she could use some quiet time to herself, to finally rest and put her feet up from all the craziness that being a mom to 5 kids brings; she said she might even ask if she could stay a few extra days!

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Sisters, 2012

Six years my senior, I have always looked up to Kimberly from her inclusiveness as she let me tag along with her and her friends, to her gravity defying bangs in the 80’s (I could never get mine as high as hers), to her mesmerizing voice as she sang lead in the high school play, “Guys and Dolls,” to her jaw dropping beauty in that perfect blue prom dress, to her fast finger piano playing, to her gourmet cooking, to her patient parenting of one child…and then 5, to her mad multi-tasking of PTA treasurer, school room mom, church girl’s camp director, book club leader, soccer mascot poster creator, indoor soccer player, birthday party planner extraordinaire among a million other things!  In short, I have always known Kim was a silent superwoman.

I was and am so humbled and honored that superwoman would not only take the time to put her responsibilities on hold for me, but willingly endure such a painful surgery and recovery.   She truly lives as President Thomas S. Monson counseled, “Fill your heart with love, your mind with truth and your life with service.”

 

Surgery Day

Two days before surgery, Kimberly and I had our final blood tests to ensure my body hadn’t created any new antibodies that would attack the donated kidney.  The blood still “played nice,” so we were ready to go!

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I woke up the day of surgery eager and excited!  It seemed like forever since I could fit into my jeans, squeeze my feet into more than one pair of my shoes, paddleboard, sleep through the night (kidneys produce the hormone that helps you sleep at night), eat a normal diet (I could eat hardly any phosphorous – which is in everything!), or simply walk around the block…and all that was about to change.

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Kimberly, her husband, Spencer, my parents and my husband, Patrick, all gathered in the pre-pre op room together as Kim and I changed and they insterted Kim’s IV…and attempted to insert mine.  We were then taken to the pre op room, where multiple nurses tried and tried again to start my IV, but even with the help of an ultra sound, they were unsuccessful –but not for want of trying!  The IV would have to wait.

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We were briefed by the doctors who informed us Kimberly’s surgery would begin 30 minutes before mine, and then they would bring me back to a separate surgery room.

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When it came time to say goodbye to Kimberly, a simple “Thanks Kim” was all it took for the tears to start rolling down both our cheeks.  She was giving me a whole new life and all I could think to give her was a gift basket (don’t get me wrong, it was an awesome, custom gift basket, but still!).

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Kimberly was already given medication at this point and starting to “go under.”

 

Graham and Jim, my living lung donors, and now Kimberly – I am forever grateful for these selfless heroes in my life!  What can you give a person who changes your life forever?  Words are never enough, gifts are never enough.  Only striving to live a life that they can be proud to have made possible can scratch the surface of honoring such a sacrifice.  I am forever in grateful debt to each one of them.

There was one more round of “Bye,” “I Love you” to the rest of my family and then it was just me, a swarm of blue and white jackets, a long, cold table, and a towering robotic-like arm shining light down as if it was going to land directly on my head.

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I laughed when I saw this picture – I really am excited despite my “nervous” eyes!

 

Because no nurses were able to successfully insert my IV previously, the surgical team inserted a large central line into my neck and then stitched it in place while I was still awake.  Thankfully I was injected with a few good numbing shots first, but the pulling and tugging sensation of needle and thread in and out of my skin made my stomach crawl.  At the same time, they could do almost anything they wanted and I would still be smiling because I knew at the end there was a new kidney and a new life!

Once the team stitched my central IV in place, it was finally time for my favorite part!  A few deep breaths and I was out…

Its extraordinary what we can cheerfully endure when we know there will be a bright outcome.  I have found this to be true time and time again in my life as I’ve lost my brother to cystic fibrosis, faced death at age 16 due to cystic fibrosis, was saved by a living donor lung transplant, and faced multiple lung rejection episodes, and now an unknown future. In every circumstance, I am filled with peace and hope because I know we can all live together again as families and with our Savior, Jesus Christ and God our Father, and that we will be perfectly happy forever if we follow Christ – there is nothing left to worry about.

As we read in Revelations 21: 3-4   “…And God himself shall be with them, and be their God.  And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

And my rock during hard times, “Look unto me in every thought, doubt not, fear not. Behold the wounds which pierced my side and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet. Be faithful, keep my commandments and you shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.”  Doctrine and Covenants: 6:36-37

At the end, there truly is a glorious new life for each one of us!

Waking up

Before my kidney failure, I didn’t know how important the kidneys are.  The kidneys are considered the master chemists of the body.  When they are working correctly, they remove wastes from the blood via the urine and return the cleansed blood back to the body. They regulate the levels of water, salts, acids and different minerals the body needs for good health. They produce hormones that control blood pressure, glucose, hemoglobin and other body functions. Many other organs also depend on the kidneys to work properly.  Who knew?!

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Kimberly’s kidney had settled into its new home in my right lower abdomen, below a 7” incision.   During kidney transplantation, your old kidneys are not removed,  so I now have three kidneys.  When I awoke from surgery, it was like a switch had been flipped –  a new master chemist was back at work!  I felt light, alert, and energized instead of heavy, fuzzy and fatigued.   Pre-surgery, the toxins in my blood measured at 7.6  – they now measured 0.9.   My “golden” kidney was working so beautifully that it had already flushed out 4 liters of fluid.  As I gazed at my ankles, I didn’t even recognize my own body –  they were so skinny.  I couldn’t tell how skinny I had become while being insulated by 10 extra pounds of water.  Now I could tell it was time to hit the gym and the protein powder.

As Patrick and I talked, he was beaming ear to ear, we were both giddy!   Oh how I love that man!   I felt so amazing after surgery that I never even required any pain medication besides what was automatically administered in my IV right after surgery – no more after that, not even Tylenol.  This is partly due to the high doses of prednisone (immunno-suppressant I was and am taking to prevent rejection) partially numbed the pain.  I was still in some pain, but it was a dull ache that was only really painful to the touch or with the wrong movement.  It was surprisingly even less painful than my laparoscopic appendectomy just a few months before.  I was in heaven!

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The day after surgery, while walking a slow hunched lap around the floor, Patrick and I came across my surgeon.  Upon seeing us, he immedialtey approached us, asked how I was doing and if we wanted to see pictures of my surgery?   Patrick and I later laughed how he whipped out his phone and flipped through pictures of his daughter, daughter, son, dog, and then my new kidney.  It was surreal to think that just 24 hours earlier, that kidney was functioning in Kim’s body and now was at work in mine.

When we stopped by Kim’s room after our stroll, she wasn’t feeling nearly as well.  My heart was heavy to see her extremely nauseous from the medication and in quite a bit of pain from the surgery.  Her surgery was performed laparoscopically which requires the abdomen to be blown up like a balloon with carbon dioxide gas so the surgeon can more easily maneuver his instruments through the small incisions.   Not all of the CO2 used is removed during surgery, however, causing a pocket of gas to rise in the abdomen pushing against the diaphragm and the phrenic nerve which can be agonizing.  The gas will eventually be absorbed by the body’s tissue and eliminated through respiration, but in the meantime, while the wound is deep and the stitches are fresh, it can be very painful.

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My heart skipped a hopeful beat the next day when my hospital door swung open and Kim walked in on the arm of her husband.  But after sitting only a couple minutes and only able to utter a few words, she was too nauseous to stay.  Before surgery, we had been told recovery is more painful for the donor than the recipient, but it was still difficult to see my sister in so much agony because of me.  I knew she would get better, but I just wished my new kidney didn’t have to come at such a price.

I am so grateful for my sister’s Christ-like willingness to step outside her own wants, needs, and comfort and unselfishly pay the price for my health and happiness, fulfilling the  question so eloquently poised by Henry Van Dyke:

“Are you willing to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you; to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world; to put your rights in the background, and your duty in the foreground; to see that your fellowmen are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy.

Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and the desires of little children; to remember the weakness and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in their hearts; to try to understand what those who live in the same house with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you; to trim our lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you;  Then you can keep Christmas.” (Keeping Christmas)

The attractive philosophies of men teach us to focus on ourselves to make ourselves happy.  But if we desire true happiness, we must look beyond ourselves and strive to emulate the Savior’s love and service to others.  As President Thomas S. Monson  described, “An attitude of love characterized the mission of the Master, He gave sight to the blind, legs to the lame, and life to the dead. Perhaps when we [face] our Maker, we will not be asked, ‘How many positions did you hold?’ but rather, ‘How many people did you help?’ In reality, you can never love the Lord until you serve Him by serving His people.” 

And as the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta taught, “…One thing will always secure heaven for us—the acts of charity and kindness with which we have filled our lives.”  

Many of us won’t have the opportunity to do “great” things like donate an organ, but as Mother Teresa maintained we can all do, “small things with great love.” (Unselfish Service)    

And for those receiving the love, the “small things” truly becomes great.

Next Week:  My final kidney post: Post Op and 1 Year Kidney Transplant Anniversary Update!

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20 Comments

  1. Tammy says

    Jennifer,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story, insight and pictures with us. You and your entire family are extremely strong and inspiring people! I’m extremely blessed to know you and be related to you. 🙂

    Love,
    Tammy

    • Jen says

      Your are so kind Tammy, thank you for taking the time to read about my journey, I am glad you found it inspiring 🙂 I am blessed to be surrounded by some pretty amazing people! You and your strength, faith and optimism inspire me everyday! XOXOXO!

  2. [email protected] Tastes Good says

    Jen, God bless you and your sister! What a beautiful blessing your sister is, and I am so happy we all get to benefit by having your happiness and joy come through to our lives when we read your posts <3 Thank you for sharing your story and for being a wonderful inspiration!

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much Marion, you are so sweet! Yes, my sister is such a huge blessing! She was before my transplant and now she is even more so 🙂 I am truly blessed! Thank you for your kind words. I am honored to rub shoulders with such wonderful people like you!

  3. candice says

    Jen,

    Thank you for being an inspiration to me and I am sure to others. The trials you have been through and still are going through strengthens and encourages me. As a born again Christian myself, it is so uplifting to hear you witness to others. As I am going through some issues myself and know the reason I keep trying is because of God and his promise to us which we can count on 100%. It is not hard to have faith in good times but can be a struggle in rough times, which is when we really have to dig deep and put a “Yes” face on. You have made me hit my optimistic button and get out of my self-pity state. Thank you. God bless to you and your family and keep that wonderful attitude you have and may we always remember to give all the glory to Him.

    • Jen says

      Hi Candice,

      I loved your message, and feel so honored to have encouraged you in any way. I heard it said once that “anything we go though that brings us closer to God we should count as a blessing.” It might be hard to see trails that way at the time, but if we step back and focus on God’s glorious promises – the means to get there don’t seem as trying. We will all be perfectly happy and at peace forever if we endure with faith and obedience. I pray for your continued strength, faith and perspective in your trials. God bless you and your family! xoxoxo Jen

  4. Justine says

    Your story is amazing. In the USA we have 30 people die everyday from organ shortages. Get well soon and start cooking! 🙂

    • Jen says

      Thank you Justine, I do feel very, very fortunate to be alive thanks to the generosity of three different people. There are no words to express my gratitude! I am feeling great now and so excited to e sharing my cooking passion with you!

  5. Carrie Phillips says

    Beautiful! Thank you for sharing. When I worked as a PA in nephrology, I was always delighted to see my patients’ dialysis chairs empty because they got that call for a kidney. This is wonderful insight to the side I didn’t get to see because I didn’t work at the transplant center. What a wonderful gift!. Your blog is full of talent and inspiration!

    • Jen says

      Carrie, thank you so much for your kind words! I feel truly blessed and so grateful for this gift and miracle in my life. Thank YOU so much for all your work helping others as a PA. A kind face at the hospital works wonders! There is no doubt you were a blessing to many.

  6. Julie Hatchett says

    You were living in my world! I have lost one kidney and the other one is starting to fail too. My blood pressure is high or too low. I want a life but to tired to have a life. I have read a lot about kidney failure but your story taught me more than any website. Your sister is so incredible for giving you a kidney. God has really blessed you! I hope one day I will be blessed like you. I wish for you to continue to have a great life! God bless! Julie Hatchett Fort Valley, Ga

    • Jen says

      Oh Julie, I am happy you reached out but sorry it is under these circumstances! I feel for your struggles and fatigue as well as waiting for the the unknown – that can be one of the most difficult struggles of all. I pray you will be blessed with a kidney match and continued strength, hope and determination in the meantime. God bless you!

  7. Corey says

    What a treat! I came to your site, it was to get the recipe for your oreo pumpkin cheesecake recipe that I saw on Pinterest. Then I started checking out your site, and was so interested to read about your kidney transplant.. especially since I donated a kidney to a woman in my town a little more than 2 weeks ago! Great story.. I’ll look forward to reading about your 1 year follow up!

    • Jen says

      You are such a saint Corey! I hope your recovery is going well and that you continue to improve daily. Being on the receiving end of a kidney transplant I cannot tell you how grateful your kidney recipient must be – you have changed her life forever!!!

  8. Terri Silva says

    Jen, thank you so much for your testimony I found you tonight at I was rereading a recipe I pinned some time ago. Some may say it is a coincidence but I prefer God-incident! My husband is 6 weeks post liver transplant. Through God’s gracious mercy we have been given this chance to further give Him the glory and serve Him My husband had his surgery at UCSF and we are so grateful to their wonderful staff and our donor, of course I have heard many transplant stories but I think ours is the most amazing I have read, Three live donors! Wow! I hope that the future brings you much joy!

    • Jen says

      Hi Terri! I definitely believe in God-incidence – I am so happy you found my story! What a miracle transplants are! I am so happy for you and your husband and his second chance and am so grateful for modern technology and medicine that have made so many transplants possible. May God bless you both with continued health and happiness!

  9. Hazel Liddle says

    Dear Jen, Like many others I came to your blog from Pinterest to look for recipes (and I have pinned quite a few!) and then I read your post about your kidney transplant. I am so moved at the courage and generosity of your sister and your love for each other. I have a similar relationship with my two younger sisters and would do the same for them anytime and know they will too. So inspiring to read about your unflinching faith in Jesus. Thank you for sharing your story and God Bless. Hazel.

    • Jen says

      Hi Hazel, thank you so much! A sister’s love is a beautiful, powerful gift. Your sisters are so blessed to have you! I am honored you were inspired by testimony of Jesus. He is my rock, my everything. Thanks again for taking the time to comment. May God bless you and yours as well!

  10. Paulina reyes says

    how can i find out if i am compatible to my husband?

    • Jen says

      Hi Paulina! There are several factors but first you need to be the same blood type. If you talk to a kidney TX specialist, they can definitely set you up with the correct tests. All the best!