*This is not a sponsored post. All opinions and contant belong to jenny at dapperhouse. Thank you to Eric Schmidt Photography Chicago for the post-operation photoshoot!
In the summer of 2004 we found out that my husband may have issues with his kidneys. After lab tests and a double kidney biopsy, it was confirmed that Paul had Stage 2 (1-5 scale with 2 being “low kidney function”) kidney disease, due to a genetic condition called IGA Nephropathy (IGA). This condition had affected his body since he was born, but kidney disease is often a slow and silent killer so he didn’t know about it until he was 33 years old. With IGA, anytime Paul caught a respiratory infection like the common cold, his body was unable to break down the antibodies (white blood cells) used to fight the virus. All the years of the antibodies being forced through his kidneys caused scarring, holes and irreparable damage to the tiny filtering units called glomeruli. His kidneys had progressively lost their ability to clear wastes from his body.
As harsh as this was to take in, we focused on the good news; which was that he would likely maintain enough kidney function to last into his late 50’s or longer without having to rely on dialysis or a transplant. With children ages 12, 9 and 2, Paul and Jen were relieved to know that he could put this issue on the back burner for 20-25 years and focus on living life as a husband and dad.
Almost a decade went by before Paul’s health began to decline. After numerous visits to the nephrology doctor it was determined that his kidneys had degraded at a more progressive rate than initially discussed. In March 2014, it was confirmed that Paul was in Stage 5 renal failure.
Given his kidney function, Paul had limited options and the next step was to go through the approval process for inclusion on the kidney transplant wait list and begin dialysis.
Paul and I tried to put our disbelief and anguish aside and tried to be positive. We busied ourselves with researching transplant hospitals, wait times, doctors, medical reviews and how to accept life living on a dialysis machine. We discussed things with our children now 23, 19 and 11, to help them understand how our lives would change and what could be expected moving forward. The whole family stayed positive and supportive of one another during this trying time. Myself and our two older children agreed to be tested as kidney donors right away. It was just another bump in the road that we would get through together.
In addition to our immediate family, relatives, co-workers and friends of Paul stepped forward and offered to be tested as donors with the hopes to shorten the wait time on dialysis or the lengthy transplant waiting list. The wait list for cadaver kidneys were 5-7 years in Chicago. Paul and I knew that finding a living donor match was a long-shot, but our extensive online research led us to numerous national kidney exchange programs.(read more about this here)
We knew that because finding a living donor match is so rare, this swap process would be most likely be the best route to finding a kidney for Paul, so I started the long process of becoming medically eligible to donate my kidney.
Imagine my surprise when the first labs came back and it was determined that Paul and I met the initial criteria to be a match! This news was almost too strange to believe! But, we were told not to get our hopes up because there are so many tests and procedures involved with matching the tissues and antibodies to avoid rejection of an organ by the recipient that it was a long shot. Everything would have to be perfect and that was about a 2% possibility for spouses.
(Read more about what it takes to be a living kidney donor)
After over a month of doctors, labs and hospital visits it was time to patiently wait for the results. We were called to the doctor’s office in August 2014 to hear the news. After some explanation about the numbers that determine the eligibility of a matching donor and recipient, it was found that we were indeed in every aspect, a truly perfect match. It was almost too much to wrap our heads around. The next step was to schedule the surgery.
The doctors set a date for the transplant with us knowing that there were still more last minute compatibility test to be done. It was challenging to wait because Paul’s health was declining so quickly. He was being poisoned by his own blood, but the doctors could not put him on dialysis to risk his body rejecting my kidney.
After two emotional postponements due to lab errors and further testing, the date of October 1st, 2014 was finally set in stone. We had learned to be calloused and guarded in case the transplant did not go through for some reason. We joked a lot and acted nonchalant about the ordeal but we were hoping deep down that it would all work out this time.
In the early hours of October 1st 2014. Paul and I traveled into the city of Chicago for the transplant operations at Rush University Hospital. I went into surgery first so they could remove my left kidney, and by the late afternoon it had been successfully transplanted into Paul’s lower abdomen.
I had minor complications during my surgery. Paul had two complications so serious that caused the surgery to be stalled twice and threatened his life. They almost had to abort the whole transplant while Paul was on the operating table, but thanks to the expertise of the surgeons at RUSH Hospital Paul’s life and my (Paul’s new) kidney were saved. It was a total success!
It has been three months since the surgery and all is well. Recovery while difficult, was short lived and our new normal is drinking a lot of water! Paul regularly visits the hospital to monitor kidney functions. In addition, Paul has to take many pills which include anti-rejection and immunosuppressant pills. He will take these pills twice a day for the rest of his life which is much less intrusive than dialysis and should extend the life of his new kidney at least 20 more years.
I believe support from family and friends is the key to handling difficult situations. We could not have kept our optimism without the love and care from the people that we care so much about! Our closest friends even threw us a Kidney Transplant Party to celebrate the excitement!
We have learned that life is precious and can change on a dime. Cherishing friends and family takes priority over everything.
Love what matters and hold tight to it.
* Pictures courtesy of Eric Schmidt Photography in Chicago.
- MORE About Being a Living Kidney Donor
- What it was like to Meet the Kidney Transplant Team
- What is IGA Nephopathy and why does it kill your kidneys
- Post Kidney Transplant – What is the BK Virus?
- The National Kidney Walk in Chicago