Please Consider Kidney Donation

Kidney donation friend helping friend

This article on kidney donation first appeared at Catholic Stand.

The Kidney Donation Process

About three years ago, my brother-in-law began dialysis. One kidney did not function at all and the other had only ten-percent functionality. A year later, my wife, her other brother, and I began the process for becoming a living donor. After providing blood and urine samples and undergoing some preliminary diagnostics, medical staff selected me as the donor.

Many more blood tests, scans, x-rays, and general checkups ensued over the following six or so months. The kidney donation process was cumbersome, but it was necessary to ensure my brother-in-law would not reject my kidney after surgery. In the beginning, doctors told us that the average time from selection to surgery would be about a year.

However, due to some complicating health factors on my brother’s-in-law end, we waited about a little over two years for the procedure. Our patience was tested, but my brother-in-law needed some other medical issues resolved before going through surgery.

The long wait finally ended a few weeks ago when we received a call from hospital staff, who gave us a choice of dates for surgery. We selected May 16, 2023. On May 10th, we underwent another battery of blood and urine tests, met with the surgical team, and finalized the remaining paperwork. The wait was finally over. My sister flew out from Tennessee to help my wife and her younger brother with post-op care.

On Tuesday, May 16th, we arrived at the hospital with great excitement and anticipation. The medical staff helped us prepare for surgery and made sure our family members could visit my brother-in-law and me until the nurses wheeled us into the operating room. My surgery began about an hour and a half before my brother’s-in-law. Doctors performed his surgery in the operating room next to mine.

I had never experienced anesthesia. So, I was more anxious about that part of the procedure than the surgery. The anesthesiologist talked to me for a minute or so while she attached the mask. After that, I did not remember anything until I awoke in my hospital room a few hours later. The whole surgery felt like only a few minutes to me.

A couple of hours after getting back to my room, my wife told me that my brother-in-law’s surgery was successful. My family and I gave thanks to God and to the doctors. Needless to say, this was a very emotional (and somewhat painful) experience, but I don’t regret it at all. My remaining kidney and my brother’s-in-law new kidney are functioning efficiently, and, for now, his body seems to be accepting it just fine. Please pray for his body’s continued acceptance.

After the procedure, family, a very caring and thorough medical staff, two priests, and an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion visited us. My brother-in-law was released two days after the surgery, and I was released a day later. He stayed a week at our house after surgery.

Recovery from kidney donation surgery

Day 1: Laparoscopic surgery. I don’t remember much. Pain was minimal due to residual anesthesia and other pain killers. Five incisions – four under an inch long, one (main incision) about four inches long below the belly button for kidney extraction.

Day 2: Soreness was present but bearable. Ate three small meals. Needed assistance getting out of bed. Burning sensation at the main incision site, but it was bearable.

Day 3: Soreness was present and burning sensation at the main incision site, but both were bearable. Catheter removed. Constipation from pain killers. Ate a meal and a half. Needed assistance getting out of bed. Due to a sudden drop in blood pressure, I remained in the hospital one more night.

Day 4: Soreness and constipation continued. Ate two small meals. Able to get out of bed with difficulty but without help. Walked ten laps around the 4th floor. Released from hospital. Felt pretty good all things considered.

Day 5: Soreness continued but constipation relieved. Ate three small meals. Walked to end of driveway and back.

Day 6: Soreness continued. Grilled steaks for dinner. Had two small meals. Continued walking. Overexerted myself (too much movement). Had difficulty getting in and out of bed throughout the night.

Day 7: Abdominal muscles hurt from overexertion. Continued walking. Ate two regular-sized meals (my normal amount).

Day 8: Soreness continued but was very mild. Burning at the main incision site reduced. Continued walking. Ate two regular sized meals.

Day 9: First checkup with surgeon. Blood and urine tested. All was good. Ate two regular-sized meals.

Day 10: Completed a 1-mile walk. Felt good most of the day. Some soreness persisted. Ate two regular-sized meals.

Day 11: Felt great most of the day. Evening hours were the worst, but the soreness was very tolerable with little to no medication. Ate two regular-sized meals.

Day 12: All discomfort, except for that at the main incision site, has subsided. Ate two regular-sized meals.

Day 13: Same as day 12.

Day 14: Ate two regular-sized meals. Most of the discomfort completely subsided. Felt great! I will be able to resume normal activities in two to four weeks.

After being released from the hospital, I did not take my prescribed narcotics because I don’t like taking strong medications unless absolutely necessary. Even without narcotics, I felt decent. For days 4 through 7, I took a combination of one Tylenol and one Gabapentin, a medication that is used for treating people with seizures but also treats nerve pain. After day seven, I took only two Tylenol per day. After day 12, I stopped taking all pain relievers.

The Payoff of kidney donation

Despite the emotional undulations, the slight pain and discomfort, and the lengthy process, I am extremely happy to have donated my kidney, and I am excited to see what the future holds for my brother-in-law. Further, my family and I are delighted to have served God and neighbor. And, although the possibility of kidney rejection exists, the odds are very slim, and I would be happy regardless of the outcome.

Living Kidney Donors Wanted

By the way, I am not looking for accolades here.  I simply said the above to say what follows.  As you can see, the kidney donation process, surgery, and recovery are not that grueling. Even with low-strength pain medication, the pain was bearable. In my opinion, waiting a year and a half for the surgery was the worst part of the whole process. So, if you have ever thought about donating a kidney but hesitated due to fear of extreme pain, please do not let that deter you.

Additionally, St. Paul writes, “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1, NAB). And Jesus, after He commands us to love God with all our being, directs, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).

The American Kidney Fund reports that about 92,000 people in America need kidney transplants, and the demand greatly outweighs the supply. Also, the National Kidney Foundation estimates that nearly 5,000 people per year die while waiting for a kidney donation. So, if you are interested in being a living kidney donor, please read this article.

Typically, a living donor should live a healthy lifestyle. Healthy eating habits will be even more important when one kidney remains, and exercise prepares the donor for physical trials that persist for a couple of weeks after surgery.

Also, I cannot imagine doing this without a good support system. My wife, sister, another brother-in-law, and clergy (my priest gave me the anointing of the sick before surgery) were indispensable during recovery. So, if you are physically fit and have a good support system, please prayerfully consider kidney donation. The process is lengthy, and recovery is somewhat painful at times, but I promise you will not regret it, and you will have saved a life.

By the way, living liver donors are also in demand. About 2,000 people per year die in America while waiting for a liver. But, if you cannot donate an organ, please consider donating blood. The American Red Cross estimates that 29,000 units of blood are needed every day in America. So, please find a blood donation site near you, and help if you can.

A Word of Caution

The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, a set of principles that guide the healing mission of the Church, explains the permissibility of organ donations. Directive 30 states, “The transplantation of organs from living donors is morally permissible when such a donation will not sacrifice or seriously impair any essential bodily function and the anticipated benefit to the recipient is proportionate to the harm to the donor. Furthermore, the freedom of the prospective donor must be respected, and economic advantages should not accrue to the donor” (emphasis added).

Also, every surgery, like every person, is unique. I can only tell you about my experience.  I cannot promise that your experience will be the same. So, to help prospective donors with decision-making, the American Kidney Fund and the United Network for Organ Sharing have created a list of pros, cons, and other things to consider before donating a kidney. If you are interested in donating, please review the information contained on their web pages. God bless!