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10 Years!

Ten years ago right about now I was in surgery and so was my kidney donor.  After months of tests, she was found to be a suitable donor.  Her offer to give me a kidney literally came out of nowhere.  Well, that’s how it seemed.  Actually, it came from God.  Only a few weeks after finding out my first transplanted kidney failed and I started hemodialysis (a date with misery three times a week), someone I’d never met was offering to give me a kidney.

First there was the jolt of losing the kidney.  Then there was the joyful jolt of a possible way out of that nightmare.  My emotions were like a pinball being bounced all over the place. But, first we had to find out what her blood type was. Over the next several months, one hurdle after another was cleared.  An infection in the dialysis port under my collarbone delayed the surgery for several weeks.

I’ve been under general anesthesia for more surgeries and procedures than I can (or want to) count.  Coming out of it, reality swims into focus much more gradually than when you wake up in the morning.  It seeps into your head as, one by one, your senses come back to life.  From there, it spreads lower to your arms and legs.  They can feel the blanket covering them and the temperature in the room, but they are too heavy to move.  At this point, you’re not sure you want to wake up further, because the place the surgeon cut and stitched is about to hurt, if it doesn’t already.

Then a post-op nurse says your name and asks how you feel.  All you can do is mumble or groan because your tongue feels thick from all the drugs.  Your throat is scratchy from being intubated for hours.  You want to say, “I feel like I was hit by a freight train.”  They spoon feed you ice chips, which melt on your tongue, waking it up.  The cool water soothes your throat.

All of that happened that day ten years ago.  But this time, I woke up feeling more joy than I thought anyone could feel when they’re that groggy.  I joked with the nurses—something I’ve never done before or since at that stage of recovery.  Maybe the difference was having an organ from a living donor.  Maybe it had something to do with the lively, spirited nature of my donor.  It’s a question I’ll never be able to answer with any certainty.

In almost every living donor transplant, the kidney starts working immediately.  Somehow, I knew it had this time, even before the doctor confirmed it.

Over the past ten years, I’ve had cancer, gall bladder surgery, a major hernia surgery where they put a big sheet of mesh under all my abdominal muscles, and last year the Type 1 diabetes made an unwelcome return.

The kidney held up through all of it.  It still works as well as it did in 2003.  At ten years, it has lasted twice as long as the first one from a deceased donor did. 

Just after the transplant, the additional vision loss put a damper on the post-transplant euphoria I normally would have had.  It has made my life much more of a challenge than it’s ever been.  Only recently have I realized that without her stepping forward so quickly to give me a kidney, I would have waited much longer. That means I would have been on dialysis much longer and my eyesight would have kept getting worse.  I might have ended up losing all of it.

I admit that too often, with all the hassles of being a middle-aged, legally blind guy adjusting to diabetes again, I forget that I’ve been given a miracle.

My resolution at this major milestone is to remind myself of that fact more often—especially when life is stressful and scary.  The kidney, in addition to keeping me alive and off a dialysis machine, is living proof that God loves me and wants me to be happy.

Read Jim’s other blog ConfessionsOfABornAgainDiabetic.Wordpress.com

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