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  • Adrift After Donation
  • Vicky Young

Idonated my left kidney to my lover, but my story doesn’t have a “happily ever–after” ending. My tale begins in 1995, when Stanley,* my new supervisor, and I talked about our families.

“I’ve Type II diabetes,” he said, “not unusual for a 43 year old Native American. Many Indians have kidney failure. Dialysis isn’t living, so I’ll probably die young.”

I blurted out, “If you need a kidney, I’ll give you one.” Stanley laughed.

Over the years, we went from colleagues to friends to lovers. After he moved away, our relationship continued with occasional rendezvous. In the fall of 2002, we headed for a relaxing weekend in the mountains.

“Are you getting bronchitis? I’ve never seen you cough like this,” I said.

“I haven’t felt good all week.”

I touched Stanley’s forehead but he wasn’t feverish. In the motel room, I propped pillows behind [End Page 34] him and he fell sound asleep. His chest moved like a sticky accordion. He slept almost all weekend. When we parted Sunday afternoon, I worried.

Several days later, Stanley called. “Hospitalized. My kidneys failed. I’m on dialysis.”

“I’ll give you a kidney.”

“There nothing you can do,” he said. “My family needs to come forward but most have diabetes.”

“But what about—.”

“An Indian is my best chance for a match. You’re Swedish and Austrian—not Indian. I’ve filed for Medicare—end stage renal disease.”

As a universal donor, with O+ blood, I needed to convince Stanley I’d be his kidney donor, my ultimate act of love. Compelled, I researched living donation. We talked often over the next few months. He hated dialysis and finally relented to testing to see if I could be his donor.

Before our blood matching on July 31, 2003, he said, “You don’t have to go through with this. There’re risks. Take care of your health. I’ll understand if you stop now.”

I read the risks. The transplant center and United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) indicated risks were pneumonia, blood clots, and rare instances of deaths. They proclaimed donors remained healthy with one kidney.

“It’ll be okay,” I said. “Let’s go forward.”

In August, we were deemed a “good match.” I had excellent kidney function, although the transplant coordinator suggested I lose a little weight and monitor my blood pressure to be as healthy as possible. I passed the remaining medical tests and surgeries were set for December 11th.

After our hospital admission tests on December 8th, the transplantation was cancelled because Stanley had heart blockage. He would’ve rejected my kidney or died during surgery.

The nurse coordinator stated, “I know how you must feel.”

“You don’t! You’ve never been a kidney donor!” I said.

After a long silence, she said, “You’re right, I never donated.”

I feared Stanley would give up on life. Many traditional Indians don’t believe in transplants. A spiritual man, his dreams predicted he’d die young. Closely connected, my intuition said I’d be his donor and he’d grow much older.

After his angioplasty and placement of stents, his circulation improved. Approval for transplantation came again in March. On April 28, 2004, I donated. The operation on me took six hours. Immediately, coming out of the anesthesia, I asked how Stanley was. His new kidney produced urine 30 minutes after transplantation

I had four instrument insertions covered with steri–strips and my vertical cesarean scar reopened with silver staples puckering my skin closed. Bright blood flowed into my urine bag. I slept the first 24–hours, heavily medicated with morphine. Laparoscopic gas inflated me like a full–term pregnancy. Terrible aches settled in my shoulders. My groin and left thigh were numb with uncontrollable muscle spasms and shooting pains. At discharge, the surgeon said numbness was normal for up to six months. After six days, I was sent home with my belly staples and a tool to remove them—myself.

I paid my family doctor to remove the staples. He couldn’t tell me what was normal after donation...


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