NANCY MILLER (Paired Donation)
In 2006, a news article caught my attention; I was quickly absorbed by the story--a well-written piece by a local nurse who had just become a living kidney donor. I was completely fascinated, as I'd never heard about this type of procedure before. How fantastic that someone was willing to step up and donate a vital organ to someone in need! I had worked as a dialysis technician in the 1980s, and I'd seen what these patients went through while waiting for a transplant. That also inspired me to want to help others in that situation.
I put it into prayer and began researching. I continually ended up at the Univeristy of Maryland Medical Center's web site. They struck me as very donor-oriented, and it was clear that not all potential donors are selected.
One morning in April, 2009, I woke up, picked up the phone, and called my physician. I told him I wanted to discuss being a non-directed living donor. (A non-directed donor is someone who donates to a stranger.) I went in for a consultation, and after assuring him that this was not a rash decision, he pronounced me in perfect health and gave his blessings.
The next step was to contact the UMMC Transplant Center. As I filled out my donor questionnaire, I had a feeling that my life was about to change.
Within the week, a co-worker called to tell me that a mutual co-worker, Craig, had just rushed his wife to the hospital in kidney failure. I had just recently met Craig when his office was moved to our work location.
I still remember the day I met Craig. As he was moving in, we introduced ourselves. The following week, we were chatting when I noticed a picture of his wife, Cindy. I was completely taken by her beauty. I had a strange feeling that something significant had just taken place, but I didn't understand it.
It was the following week that Cindy's kidneys failed. I had already entered the non-directed donor program, but as soon as I got word about Cindy, I jumped at the chance to be her donor. Before the week was out, we had our blood drawn for a cross-match to see if we were compatible.
After a long, anxious wait, the transplant coordinator contacted me: I was not a match for Cindy. I was overwhelmed with sadness. However, the transplant coordinator suggested that Cindy and I team up and enter their Paired Kidney Exchange Program. If we matched another incompatible couple, both Cindy and another patient could receive a kidney (See Paired Donation for an explanation.) How exciting! I didn't hesitate for a moment.
During the next few months, we set milestone dates for the transplant; however, these dates were not to be. At one point, we were involved in a Chain Donation among various states. The wait was frustrating and difficult, but I knew we were in the best of care. And then it happened: A pair was found in Minneapolis, and surgery was set for Thursday, January 7, 2010.
The morning of the surgery, I was a little nervous--not so much for myself, but for Cindy and the other patient. Everything happened quickly. Within an hour or so, I met with my surgeon, the anesthesiologist, and several nurses, who were very encouraging. The chaplain also stopped by for a quick prayer. I was taken to a pre-op room, where I was chatting with another patient when they took me into the surgical room. The last thing I remember is looking at one of the nurses.
My next memory was of the staff waking me up in the recovery room. I couldn't believe six hours had passed. I asked if everything was okay and was told the kidney was in flight, even though a snowstorm had encompassed the area. I was in some discomfort, which any surgical patient would feel. The nursing staff worked their pain control magic, and by the next afternoon, they were discussing my discharge. I had one very small incision at my belly button. I believe I was told it was the smallest around and the talk of the town.
I was discharged on Saturday (2 days after surgery) and rested on Sunday. I was down to only one pain pill at night on Monday, and by Thursday I was on my way into the office. I was still walking a little gingerly and slightly bent over, but I felt fantastic. I'd had the flu worse than this!
I feel so honored to have been a part of this. It was the most fulfilling--and life changing--experience of my life. Everything else pales in comparison to the joy of giving someone the gift of life.
Following their donations, Nancy made it their goal to educate and inspire others to become living donors. Nancy makes and sells t-shirts, bandanas, tote bags, aprons, key rings, bracelets, and barettes to profit the National Kidney Foundation. You can find Nancy and her creations on Facebook at Donor Darlings and Devils.