Written by Sara Fleming, Living Kidney Donor
Because affecting another human being’s life so profoundly would feel amazing.
Because I believe that we all need to help each other out in this big crazy world.
Because there is something that I have, that I don’t need, that could save another person’s life.
But I think the real reason that I decided to donate my kidney… Because what if I had a loved one in need of a kidney and no family or friend was a match, I would have to hope a stranger would step up and help us out… but how can I expect someone else to do that if I’m not willing to do it myself?
Photo: Akiba and I after the transplant
And so my journey to donate a kidney began. I did some research, read a bunch of articles, perused multiple websites, and decided the benefits far outweighed the risks. I filled out a profile on a site full of potential donors and recipients (okay, not so full of possible kidney donors, but extremely full of eager kidney recipients). In the spring of 2014 I started to receive messages from people in need of a kidney. After the heart-wrenching process of reading the pleas and bios of over a hundred people, I decided to start testing for Akiba, a 39 year old single mother of three living in the DC area.
Over the next several months I went through a few blood draws, a urine test, chest x-ray, EKG, CT of my renal function, and an MRI. I also met with a transplant surgeon, nephrologist, dietitian, social worker, and psychologist. To my delight, the doctors found me to be in perfect health! Not only that, but they determined that Akiba and I were a suitable match. So they scheduled our surgery for April 22nd in Fairfax, VA.
Unfortunately, 40 hours before surgery, I got a call from our coordinator that Akiba had an infection and wasn’t healthy enough to receive the organ. We were going to have to wait a little longer. We were rescheduled for Wednesday, June 24th. The day before surgery, my sister and dad and I flew out to Virginia. We went straight to the hospital to take care of the last of my blood and urine tests.
And then I got to meet her. The woman who would be housing my left kidney for the rest of our lives. The woman whose story touched me so deeply that it was easy to endure all of my tests, knowing she had been through 100x worse already. The woman to whom I would be forever bonded. And she was beautiful. And we cried. And we were nervous. And we didn’t know what to say… but at the same time didn’t need to say anything at all.
Photo: When we met for the first time, the evening before surgery
The next morning we went into surgery. Other than taking slightly longer than anticipated (my surgeon was a bit of a perfectionist), everything went off without a hitch! The kidney started working immediately! The IV pain drip I was given after surgery made the first day of recovery a breeze. Days 2 and 3, however, were a bit more difficult. My incisions were sore, sitting up was difficult, and my doctors hadn’t quite found the best pain medication for me. By Day 4 though, I was feeling remarkably better. On Days 5 and 6 I even felt up for some site-seeing. On Day 7 I flew home. And by Day 8 I was back at work.
I am writing this at one month post-op, and I can tell you that I am 95% back to normal. My incisions look great, the soreness is almost completely gone, and other than being slightly more tired than usual, I feel fantastic.
Akiba and I talk about once or twice a week. We check in to see how the other one’s feeling, to make sure recovery is going alright, to find out if all the levels are where they’re supposed to be, and just to see how life is going. Although, just like the first day we met, we really wouldn’t have to say anything at all…. We have already shared such an amazing experience…. Months of testing and anticipation, meeting for the first time the evening before a major surgery, taking walks to go visit each other while we recovered on the same hospital floor, and hugging 6 days after surgery as I was getting ready to head to the airport to fly back to my life in St. Louis.
Photo: Three days post-op
It’s a pretty incredible feeling to know that somewhere in DC an amazing woman is walking around with a gift that I gave her, a gift that connects us for life. So yeah, the benefits definitely out-weigh the risks.
August 1-7 is National Minority Donor Awareness Week!
Did you know that ethnic minority groups are more likely than Caucasians to have certain chronic conditions that affect the kidney, heart, lung, pancreas and liver?
Over 120,000 men, women, and children are on the US waiting list. Are you a registered organ donor?
Sara Fleming is an accountant in St. Louis, MO. She enjoys traveling, photography, and volunteering at the St. Louis Crisis Nursery. She loves trying new experiences such as sky-diving, flying an airplane, and paddle boarding.
Here's Sara participating in our April #outliveyourself campaign: