Friday, December 24, 2010

presence - 2011

This is my post from 2010. I told myself when I started this blog that I would not re-post. Guess rules were meant to be broken.  This is one of my favorite posts, and I feel that it's worthy of round two. Have a wonderful holiday everyone...

My memories of Christmas as a child are probably some of the fondest. I love my family and I thank God that I have the most caring, supportive and loving parents anyone could ask for. I can now recognize as an adult just how much effort, love, time and care they put into making Christmas truly special for me, and my siblings (but I know they love me most!) In my opinion, Christmas is for children. It's that one day of the year that is truly magical. Sorry, Disney, but I got one on ya!

I'm an adult now (biologically anyway) and Christmas just isn't the same. The magic is lost. The lights, the music and the spirit is still lingering, but the essence of what it always was as a child is now over. That's ok, and I don't mean that in a 'Debbie Downer' kind of way. I just think that being all grown up changes the perspective and the mystery is now diminished. Unfortunately, it seems that consumerism and a society that thrives on self-entitlement has stolen that beauty of what once was such a meaningful time. I often wonder if the 7-year-olds of today are as mesmerized by the simplicity of a homemade Christmas cookie as much as I was at that age, or those exciting trips to have breakfast with Santa.  Their focus has gone from the wonderment of crafted creations in the kitchen to the possibilities from a click of a button on an electronic device. There is no nostalgia in that, and I believe there never will be. I remember so fondly being at Grandma's house and the ribbon candy and white porcelain Christmas tree that lit up when you plugged it in. That's what sticks to your ribs and becomes a part of who you are. I know I enjoyed the presents, but my memories are more of the presence... of my family.

Christmas now is spent with my immediate family only, and while that has changed over the years, the time sharing laughter, food, drinks and love is still the same as it was when I was five. Sure, the cast is a little different, a bit smaller, a lot older, and much wiser, but the love is still there. My expectations year after year are minimal, but are always met because the most important gift of this holiday is the interaction among my family. Now that, is magical.


I hope that everyone is blessed with the opportunity to share time tomorrow with someone they love. Let's not forget what the day is really about, and how we can continue to give gifts throughout the year that don't come in wrapped packages. Gifts of support, time, care, knowledge, humor, kindness and love. I really have only one wish on my Christmas list - I wish that I might inspire someone to give the gift of life by becoming a living kidney donor. Ok, I lied, I have two wishes and the other one wears a pin-stripe uniform, swings a bat and has a really cute butt. Make the new year for you, the possibility of another year of life for someone else. Donating your kidney might not be for you, but what about donating your tissue and organs when you're deceased?

Create memorable moments tomorrow with the ones you love and enjoy the spirit of what the day is really about... booze! Kidding.

Until next time... Happy Festivus, everyone!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

support, please? - part II


In my lifetime, I've found most often that any support I've needed has come from immediate family members or very close friends. After all, they know me best and the trust and loyalty I need from them has been well established for many years. So, I guess I would say that I would never imagine that I would seek support from someone that I had never met before, yet alone ever spoken to.

As I began my journey of donating my kidney, I found that I didn't have a choice and would need to look elsewhere for this support. I wanted to find others that would be able to give me the knowledge, information, facts and honest opinions to all my questions about kidney donors, and their experience. As much as I love my family and friends, there was no way in hell they would be able to help me with this. They weren't even aware at this stage of my journey, so seeking support from them was out of the question. I needed a new friend and mentor to be there for me when I was 'stuck' with crazy questions about everything ranging from how to successfully accomplish my 24-hour pee tests to filling out the numerous documents required.

I had spent many hours doing research on living kidney donations and at this point I was confident that I had collected all the information I needed to feel comfortable with the actual surgery. What I didn't have was information about the personal and delicate questions that any patient is hesitant to ask of their physician.  I knew there were many tests to come, prior to my surgery, and then I also knew that recovery would be another area I was lacking information about.  When I connected with Harvey Mysel (Living Kidney Donors Network), I asked him if he could possibly provide me with contact information of other living kidney donors. My thought was that if I could talk to others that had been there and done that, I would be able to absorb the entire experience more thoroughly, through their words. Harvey suggested I contact two donors; one was a woman from New Jersey who donated in March of 2010, and the other was a woman living in Chicago that was going to be donating in the upcoming weeks.

I didn't delay the connection I needed with them for even one day. My first phone call was to Hope Preston. Hope lives in NJ and donated her kidney at the same hospital where I would eventually end up having my surgery. She was so kind and helpful, providing me with the answers to the questions I had about Weill-Cornell specifically, and also sending me a copy of a journal that she kept detailing her daily progress before and after her surgery. This was extremely helpful and it really broke down the experience much more clearly for me.

The following day I called Cara Yesawich, the other donor Harvey told me about that was soon to have her surgery. Little did I know just how much this woman would become a part of my life. I new she was someone special after the first phone conversation we shared and I also knew that she would be the mentor and friend that I needed during this inquisitive time for me. Cara provided me with all the answers I needed, even the most embarrassing and personal ones. I felt so comfortable talking with her and never hesitated to ask her something regardless of how stupid I thought it was. I think knowing that she honestly didn't mind helping me was a huge relief. I never once felt as though I was bothering her and got a positive vibe from the beginning, that she truly cared. 

For those that are in the process of becoming a living kidney donor, please request a mentor if you find you need someone that can be there for you who has lived the experience. You will be so relieved and comforted just knowing you can rely on a buddy that will give you guidance as you progress through your journey. I'm persistent when I want results, and I will be assertive to get them. One thing you won't find in all the literature you receive is answers to questions (honest answers) about pain, scarring and digestive difficulties during recovery. Ya know, all the poop questions. What about all the mobility challenges I would encounter after surgery? I never even thought of that. Cara prepared me for the little struggles I would have like preparing meals and getting in and out of bed. I also would have never known if all the weird things spinning in my head immediately before surgery were natural. All these thoughts were so easily dismissed in my mind with a quick phone call or email to Cara. The discharge papers they hand you when you leave the hospital are about as informative as a clue on a scavenger hunt. It's a joke, really, and I can't tell you how much post-op information I got from Cara, daily. She was my angel, and still is.

So, should you be in the beginning stages of your donation, I urge you to find a mentor. The Living Kidney Donors Network, the National Kidney Registry, Living Donors Online, Cara, and myself included, would be more than happy to help you with your questions. We are not doctors, and don't claim to be, but during such an important experience in your life, you have the right to ask virtually anything you want. And, you have the right to get an answer, with a lot of support and care packed into it.

Thank you, Harvey, Cara, Diane, Robyn and all the other donors that were there for me when I needed support - when I needed a friend.

Until next time.... hope you're all enjoying the Christmas spirit.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

support, please? - part I

NOTE:  Until now, this blog served as an online journal for me, and those that chose to follow me. I feel as though I was successful in delivering that content. I will be approaching a 3-month post-surgery date soon and I need to shift my focus now on mentoring. Going forward, my intent is to provide more material to inform & educate donor-wanna-beez. My goal is to give those beginning their journey, the information I felt I needed most when I made the decision to be a living kidney donor. For good measure, I'll toss in a few irrelevant posts for my audience - to some I will humor, others I will bore to tears...

I can clearly recall the night I decided to take the leap to explore living kidney donation. I spent hours online, Googling this and Googling that. I didn't even know there was a term that would describe what would be the experience I would be able to undergo only 6 months later. I was all over the place and eventually got bounced to several sites providing me with scrumptious recipes on kidney bean salads. Ok, so I got a little sidetracked (and felt a little gassy just reading about them.) Anyhow, I was putting a hell of a lot of effort into this research but I didn't really know what it was I should be researching. Good thing I wasn't on a deadline or I would have failed the project.

My brain is a sponge for information. When I'm on a mission to learn something new, I thrive on the minutia. Give me details, please! My research that evening, and many others to follow, provided me with more material on kidney transplants/donations/surgery than I could ever absorb. So, here I am with all this crap and I don't know how to digest it all. Do I begin with educating myself on kidney disease and those who are suffering while waiting for a transplant, or do I jump into the fire and call my local hospital and ask them where I sign to donate my kidney? This was the start of what became my only frustration of this journey... not knowing where to begin, and then how to follow through.

I knew what I needed. I needed support. I needed a 'go to' person, web site, contact, book, video... whatever. I just needed a good solid source that would give me a step-by-step plan to follow. I'm also a teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy, lil' bit of a perfectionist and thrive on guidelines and rules (except for my sugar intake.) God forbid I make a move forward if I'm not following a proper protocol, especially with something as important as donating my kidney. I couldn't believe how many web sites include 'network', 'organization', 'foundation' or 'association' - preceded by 'kidney'. My attempt to determine which one was more credible than the other failed and I was becoming more frustrated by the moment. I couldn't help but think to myself, if they are all offering equally accurate information, then why can't they all get together and create one giant site called...  everythingaboutkidneydonations.com. Nice ring to it, eh?

You'll be shocked to know this, but, I'm impatient. I know, I know, I have a flaw and I can't believe it myself either. I was anxious to kick this up a notch and really make some progress. Don't know how many of you have heard of Facebook, but I decided to give it a shot and post a query on my status update. Bingo! You should try it sometime. Harvey Mysel, president of the Living Kidney Donors Network, was quick to respond to my post and within days we had shared our first phone conversation. Harvey became that source that I was seeking, the support and clarity I needed to move forward hitting fewer roadblocks as I aimlessly surfed the web.

Now I could really get down to bizness! Harvey's guidance was instrumental in my introduction to become a living kidney donor. Armed with more knowledge about the process, and the direction to move forward to yield solid results, I registered online at the National Kidney Registry. I would soon learn that my journey becoming a living kidney donor would give me not only a meaningful experience, but a very special connection to a support system of other living donors.

-  Part II to follow...

Until next time... as you shop for holiday gifts, don't forget about your favorite non-profit organization.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

thanksgiving

Since I've been an adult, Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. I love the anticipation of knowing exactly what the day is going to be like, and never being disappointed. It's an easy holiday. Easy, because there is nothing superficial about it and people have little to no expectations from others. It requires little effort and lots of love. Sure, preparing the meal requires time and hard work but something tells me that those who volunteer to serve up the goods, are just as happy to share their labor of love with you as you are to savor it. Plus, it's my annual tradition to watch 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles', and laugh my a** off again and again at the same stupid scenes.

This Thanksgiving will be special to me because I will be participating in my first 5K race since my surgery. I ran the local Turkey Trot 5K last year on Thanksgiving and really enjoyed the energy and stimulus of the crowd. This year I decided I would participate in the Cardiac Classic 5K, here in Schenectady's Central Park. Truth be told, I'm terrified - not of the race, but of the temperature right now. Mr. Weatherman says it's at around 22 degrees. Scorcher, eh?  I will look like the Michelin Man, with my 5 layers of clothing, but I don't care. This is a big day for me, and I don't expect anyone to understand, but...  I'm running a 5K  two months after I donated my kidney!

I have been dedicated to my training since I was given the green light by my doctor to start running again on October 22nd. I am still slow, I'm winded a bit, and I still have small and short stabbing pains in my abdomen that come quickly but leave just as fast. I'm just now beginning to get back to my goals at the gym with my strength training, and hopefully soon will be much stronger. See, I find this all fascinating. It blows my mind that a person can donate their organ, recover, and then feel as though nothing really happened only two months later, and then have the ability to run a road race. I'm dreading the cold temperatures but very excited to participate. My goal is to finish (before Christmas). I don't care how long it takes me (yes I do), and I'm sure this is not going to be one of my better races, but, it's a huge accomplishment for me.

For today's race I posted this sign on the back of my Michelin Man outfit...
I'll be wearing it proudly.


Perhaps some of you readers would consider donating your kidney but are concerned about your ability to successfully continue your physically challenging activities long after your surgery. You should be concerned, just as I was. Because just as fitness is the balance in my life, I know that many others have prioritized activities in their lives too. I'm here to tell you that you will not lose that ability. Please don't let that fear hinder your decision to become a living kidney donor.  You will recover. You will get your strength back. You will feel fantastic. I do!

This year, as I reflect on what I'm thankful for, among all the elements I have in my life that make me feel blessed, I'm most thankful for my health. Look where it took me, look at who received it, and look where it's going...  today.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone,  and I hope that I might inspire somebody today to take the path I chose and be a living kidney donor. The journey will be uniquely yours, but you will have me and many other donors, behind you and supporting you every step of the way.

Until next time... for today  -  eat lots, love your family and friends, and never take your health for granted.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

the dash

On Sunday, November 7, 2010, I had the pleasure (sad pleasure, but meaningful nonetheless) to attend a donor memorial, presented by the good people who work for The Center for Donation and Transplant (CDT), here in Albany, NY. My friend, Jen, is an organ procurement specialist for CDT and was kind enough to ask me if I would be interested in joining her. My immediate response was, ‘Sure, I’ll go, will there be any cake served?” Because it’s all about the sugar, really.

So, on Sunday afternoon, I put on my dress-up ‘girly’ clothes and off we went. Mistake #1 was not asking enough questions about exactly what this event entailed. Mistake #2 was neglecting to tote a large box of Kleenex with me. All I remember Jen mentioning was that there was going to be a guest speaker representing the transplant program at Albany Medical Hospital. I was intrigued by this and knew that I would walk away learning something about organ transplants, so I was game. What Jen didn’t tell me was just how sad, touching and heart-wrenching this ceremony would be.

This memorial is an annual event that pays tribute to all those beautiful people who have lost their lives, and donated their organs. Family members and loved ones of the donors were there to represent them and remind us all just how special they were and how special they continue to be, by giving the gift of life to someone else. Jeffrey Orlowski, CEO for CDT gave a beautiful opening speech, followed by a reading given by the parents of a donor. This poem is called, "The Dash". I was so moved by these words that I felt I should share them with you all. As I’ve said before, I understand that organ donation is not for everyone, and I can appreciate this. It’s a very personal decision. I do believe though, that anyone that reads this poem will for even a moment, think twice about how precious our lives are.

The Dash
by Linda Ellis

I read of a reverend who stood to speak
at the funeral of his friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
from the beginning...to the end.
He noted that first came the date of her birth
and spoke of the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time
that she spent alive on earth…
and now only those who loved her
know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own;
the cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
and how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard…
are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left.
(You could be at “dash mid-range.”)

If we could just slow down enough
to consider what’s true and real,
and always try to understand
the way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger,
and show appreciation more
and love the people in our lives
like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect,
and more often wear a smile…
remembering that this special dash
might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy’s being read
with your life’s actions to rehash...
would you be proud of the things they say
about how you spent your dash?


See, I wasn’t kiddin’ ya, was I? Wow, talk about rippin’ your heart out. After I abused the hell out of a box of tissues, it was time to strike up the band for more grief and misery. Why not add to the despondency in the room by inviting a musical trio to share a dirge or two with the crowd as the family members were invited to come to the front of the room to announce the name of the donor, and light a candle in their honor? There were 42 families invited, so I only tore up 42 tissues in the second half of this somber ceremony. I don’t remember the last time I felt so emotionally exhausted and torn up. While I would never volunteer to subject myself to this afternoon of torture again, I will never forget the meaning and acknowledgement shown toward so many deceased people that have given a new lease on life to so many others.

This event was important to me because it reminded me how much the gift of an organ, cadaverous or living, means to someone who’s life is diminished without it. For those that can’t go forward with the decision to be a living kidney donor, please don’t forget that you can still donate life by registering to be an organ, eye and tissue donor upon your death. How wonderful to be able to let your memory live on in the body of someone else, long after you’re gone.

I never got my cake at the memorial service, but I did get the opportunity to be among so many others that can appreciate and honor the meaning of organ donation.

Until next time... register to be an organ donor  today!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

scar(y) - boo!


WARNING: Post contains graphic photos, but it's Halloween so suck it up!

I’ll be honest here, I have contemplated sharing this post for some time and it’s all because of my fear of posting these photos. But, this blog is for future donor-wanna-beez, and I’ve decided it’s very important to reveal the incision pics. After all, this is the most important part of the procedure really. This is where it all happened, and it's a mark I will wear proudly, forever.

When I was conducting research about living kidney donors, I can only recall locating one image of a donor’s scar from the surgery. Hey, I’m curious, just like anyone else would be, right? Now, I’m not a narcissist and I’m not terribly vain, but if there’s one part of my body I feel pleased to be genetically blessed with, it’s my waist and belly button. I have a relatively flat stomach, no muffin-top yet, but I’ll never be Jillian Michaels either. I’m healthy, I can complete 100 sit-ups with little effort and thanks to my genes, I just naturally have a small waist. God gave me child-bearing, disproportionately large hips instead. 

Yes, I’ll admit it, I did have concerns as to what my scar would look like 6 months after surgery. I also came to terms that I might not like the results of how it healed, or the shape, or the color. Considering the gift I was going to give, I told myself that this was all irrelevant in the long run. And it is.

So, here ya go... BOO!


Before...

This photo taken September 20, 2010 - 2 days before surgery.







12 days post-surgery...

This photo taken October 4, 2010 - 12 days after surgery.
Steri-strips still intact, belly still swollen.


5+ weeks after surgery...

This photo taken October 31, 2010 - 39 days after surgery. Scar getting lighter daily.

So, there ya go... kinda creepy, eh? Kidding. It's not creepy, it's science and as far as I'm concerned it's a medical miracle. I can't believe that they pulled an organ the size of a computer mouse out of that tiny little space. I gotta say, doc did a fantastic job and it's still not healed completely. I know and have learned, it will fade more and not be as tough as it is now. I'm tending to it daily with Vitamin E oil and have been very fortunate that I had no infections during the healing process.

I have had many donor-wanna-beez ask me about the incision.. How big is it? ... Does it hurt? ... How many do you have? Well, every donor is going to heal differently, primarily because we all have different surgeons and they all perform using different techniques. Because my surgery was performed laparoscopically, I was fortunate to have only one incision, some donors will need to have additional incisions based on their situation. Yes, it still hurts, but I'm not in pain. It's more like a hard pinch, and still sensitive around that area. It's getting better every day and I even started doing abs again at the gym. It's hard work, it's uncomfortable to say the least and feels weird (and I know I look weird doing them), but I'm getting there.

My purpose in this post is to convey yet again the simplicity of this experience. Look and see for yourself, I truly don't think that this scar is really that bad. I would do it again tomorrow if I knew I had to live with another one next to it. Hey, it's far less offensive and much more attractive than some of the tattoos I've seen, and this scar saved a life!

Until next time... To all the donor-wanna-beez, keep the emails coming - I have lots to share with you all so don't be shy:   ars0168@yahoo.com

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

2,861 miles away and alive, in julia

My physical recovery from my surgery has been going so smoothly, and improving at a much faster rate than I had anticipated. I'm still feeling lethargic, but it's not stopping me from pushing forward. I'm running again - well, skipping/shuffling/scooting, is more like it. It's coming back, but I am taking it easy and only increasing my time/pace minimally to avoid any setbacks.

My emotional state since my donation has been better than expected as well. I feel fantastic, and probably more alive than ever. I feel like my spirit is lifted, my heart and soul is fulfilled. To be honest, I never really felt like this surgery was a 'big deal'. Yes, it was a pain in the a** getting stuck with a needle a thousand times, and all the emails, phone calls and organization of the logistics during this journey was quite honestly, just annoying. But that's it. No. Big. Deal. I hopped on the table in the O.R. for my surgery, I awoke hours later, I rested for a week and now I'm at close to 100%, or at least I feel like I am.

The past week or so I have been thinking more about my recipient. Wondering...How she was doing? Was she healing, or was she suffering setbacks? What about her new New York kidney - was it living up to its expectations, or was it checking out once in a while for a Pinot Grigio and a glance at Derek suffering the loss during his last game of the season? I have heard nothing from her transplant coordinator and decided that I would give her a call in about two weeks to see if she could 'check in' on my lil' kidney. She mentioned to me in a phone call the day after my surgery, that the recipient wanted to contact me and would do so by letter. Just like my grandmother waiting for her TV Guide Magazine, I sprinted to the mailbox daily, with hopes of seeing an envelope postmarked with a big "CA". I truly felt like I would never hear from her, and had pretty much accepted that, sadly, but never regretting once my decision to donate. Everything happens for a reason and I felt that if she didn't want to reach out to me, she had her good reasons, and that's ok.

On Saturday, October 23rd, I pulled an envelope from my mailbox, postmarked from Bakersfield, CA. I barely had a moment to retrieve it from the box before my heart and eyes poured tears of joy. My hands shaking, my eyes crying and my heart filling with purpose. I haven't cried that hard since Ricky Martin came out of the closet. It was ridiculous and had I been in front of an audience, I would have died of embarrassment. It took about 3 minutes before I could even open it, I was admiring her handwriting and my mind was buzzing with curiosity as to what was inside. Quite honestly, I didn't care. She could have inserted a coupon for a free car wash and signed her name and I would have been satisfied. Just the very thought of receiving contact from her was very emotional for me. I had been waiting and wanting, but truly feeling like it might not ever happen.

I pulled out the notebook paper folded neatly inside and out popped a small photo of her taken with her husband and daughter. So, again, the tears were flowing like a river and I'm gasping for air. Look! - it's my recipient, there she is with my kidney inside of her!  She's real, and that's her family right there in front of my eyes! I can't believe it's real and that this is the person that is living freely with my crazy little bean inside of her. Unbelievable!

Her letter so beautifully scripted, so precise and elegant, so gracious and kind, thoughtful and caring. It was so much more than I ever had expected.

             "...you donating your healthy kidney to me has given me 
              a second chance at living a longer, more healthy, and 
              more fulfilled life. You, Angela are my 'Angel' and I 
              will always hold on to that."


              "...recovery for me has been going well. My labs have
               been great and the doctors are happy with my new 
               kidney function."


               "...know how grateful and thankful I am for the best 
               gift I could receive... your donation was the beginning 
               of a chain that will save so many other lives - may 
               God bless you abundantly for your act of kindess."


Two pages of sincere gratitude and honest thoughts that mean more to me than I ever imagined. After reading this, I now know that this was a big deal -  a very big deal. It's really real and I am amazed that I am sitting here today in New York, and my kidney is 2,861 miles on the other side of this country providing a new lease on life inside a woman that I have never met. It has finally hit me and this entire journey that all along seemed so simple is now so much more. I am thrilled and filled, with emotion. I am blessed and proud to have given this gift. I am so very excited to begin a beautiful connection with this woman that will forever be a part of me, this woman named Julia.

Again I am asking you, the reader, to please just entertain the thought for a moment as to how easy and possible it is to donate your healthy kidney to another that so desperately needs it.  I encourage you all to at the very least consider the conversation with yourself. You can't imagine how meaningful this experience is, and how little sacrifice you are making to provide someone with a much deserved quality of life that most of us take for granted. Ask me how you can become a non-directed kidney donor - how you can save a life.

Until next time... Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 8, 2010

goody, a goodie bag!

If you're like me, you love to get cards and packages in the mail. During my recovery I received several 'get well' gifts from friends and family. I love that moment of anticipation before opening it, like when you were a kid at Christmas, shaking and feeling the form of the package to help you better guess what was inside.

I came home today to find that orange and purple FedEx package on my porch and got all excited. Ooohhh, who's sending me something good? It was wrapped in a soft bubbly envelope and I could tell by it's form that there were several small boxes inside. I looked at the return address label and noticed it was sent from the UCLA Health Systems. I knew it couldn't be another blood kit, cuz I'm pretty sure we're all done with that for a while.

The transplant coordinator from UCLA had sent me a goodie bag, or should I say goodie box(es). "How nice", I thought as I opened the envelope and saw several small boxes inside. Slowly I opened them, one by one and my God, what an array of showcase prizes, folks!  Bet ya didn't know that when you donate a kidney, the hospital sends you:  a ballpoint pen, a notepad, a keychain with an "EVERYDAY HERO" charm, a packet of mints (I think) and a stainless steel thermos. That's right kids, it can all be yours, for just one small kidney donation.

My showcase of prizes... and a bill.


And you all thought that I was going to walk away from this without any type of gratuitous gift. Shame on you.

After letting my pulse rate drop, I decided to move on to the real good stuff... the mail. I notice an envelope from Weill-Cornell Hospital and decide that since my level of excitement can't quite get any highter at this point, I'll open this one next. Not again? Another nice gift, this time from NYC (I'm getting hit from both the west coast and the east coast - lucky girl). Folded neatly inside was my invoice, for my organ that they ripped out of me. How nice.  I haven't seen a bill with that many figures on it since I got my bar tab in Vegas. Who wants to take a guess at what my beautiful organ is worth? C'mon, don't embarrass me, after all, the doc said I had beautiful insides.

$12,751.00  I gotta know what that $1 is for.

I don't mind tellin' ya, I'm disappointed. I was kinda shootin' for something around $24K. I mean, hypothetically, should I have decided to sell the kidney, like on eBay or something, I'm sure I could have raked in at least $20K, right?  Well, it is what it is and I've decided that I'm going to send that invoice back to Weill-Cornell and ask them to give me credit. I could use a little lipo.

Until next time... GO YANKEES!!!!


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

thank you, and you, and you...

Today is two weeks to the day of my surgery. Aw, kinda like an anniversary. I'm recovering well, I think. At least I feel like I am. Today was my second full day at work; I went back last Friday but could only tolerate a half day. Monday wasn't too bad, but I left at 3pm. Up until Monday night I have not been able to sleep through the evening and have been experiencing the worst of my pain in bed at night. It's because Derek hogs all the space in the bed. It's because I can't get comfortable.  However, last night was great! A full night of sleep and I felt like a million bucks when I woke this morning.

Because my pain is diminishing daily and I haven't been as distracted, I've had more time to ponder and reflect on this journey, specifically the recent surgery. As most of you know, I live alone. I don't have a husband or a child to annoy care for me. What I do have is an unbelievable support system of friends and family that makes me feel like the luckiest woman in the world. Were it not for their concern, care, comfort and genuine generosity, I know that this recovery would have been extremely challenging, lonely and emotionally painful. I am fortunate to have many friends, almost too many (do you want some?) and this has probably been the first time in my life when I have truly needed their help. It's hard for me to ask anyone for help, and I know that's an ongoing character flaw that I've yet to lose, but I've discovered that these people in my life are there for me because they want to be. What a great feeling it is to know that I have surrounded myself by some of the kindest friends a person could ask for!

So many people did so many wonderful things for me, and I wanted to take some time to thank them, here. Let me start by saying that I can't possibly list them all, the Facebook friends list alone would have you all napping by the 10th name, but I do feel the need to express my gratitude for a select few. If you don't want to stick around for this, then go ahead and bounce over to water your crops on Farmville or tweet your friends about who you hope will be kicked off of Dancing with the Stars next week. Just know you'll be missing what to me is the most important post I've offered yet. Buh-bye.

In no particular order, so don't get all weird about this, ok?
  • Amanda (my sister)  -  You were there to entertain me, make me laugh, reassure and comfort me, calm me and most importantly, provide me with your unconditional love and support. Thank you so much for being there at my side prior to my admittance and after the surgery in the recovery room. You're the best sister anyone could ask for.
  • Mom - Your support of my decision to be a donor means more to me than anything you could ever do for me in my life. This was the most important and meaningful decision I have ever made and knowing you were behind me 100% made this experience so pure, without any hesitation, because of your love. I love you so much.
  • Cara Yesawich (my donor mentor) -  Although I've never met you, I feel like I've known you forever. Your time, information, honesty and care are more than I could have asked for in a mentor. Your phone calls and emails of encouragement, support and post-surgery tips were priceless to me.  I hope to one day be able to meet this angel that I feel so connected to... thank you for being there for me, Cara.
  • Robyn Wheatley (my donor mentor)  - You too live so far away but I feel like you're right around the corner. Your daily emails and calls to me after surgery comforted me and made me feel secure about my progress. It was so nice to know I could just pick up the phone or email you and within minutes you had all the answers. I hope you and I can run a race together one day, just because we only have one kidney doesn't mean we won't kick ass!
  • Harvey Mysel - Without your response to my Facebook status update, I don't think I'd be writing this blog. Your kind and honest approach in providing me with direction and support as I was processing my decision was the confirmation I needed in knowing that this was the best gift I could have ever given to someone. I hope that in the future I can return the favor by helping your organization by becoming a mentor. Thank you for providing me with wonderful mentors and accurate information. I admire your strength and motivation.
  • Diane Zocchia (transplant coordinator - National Kidney Registry) - I know, I ask a million questions, and you deserve a raise! Your specific information and detailed account of your own kidney donation was so reassuring to me. I appreciate all your work on the logistics of our lodging at the hospital - that big 'ol city scares the hell out of me and thanks to you, I didn't worry about a thing.  NKR is lucky to have you on their team and I am so fortunate to have had you with me every step of the way.  Thank you for adding the personal touch to this journey that I found to be so comforting to me.
  • Sue Rice - I now have enough food in my freezer to last me until St. Patrick's Day. Thank you for your generosity and thank you for adding more junk in my trunk.
I want to thank all my friends for the beautiful cards, emails, text messages, phone calls and special gifts you have all given me.  Just knowing you all cared is what really is important, and I thank you for that.

I hope to post a nice detailed account of my recovery soon, as I feel it's very important to share this information with all potential donors that are just beginning their process of being a living kidney donor. Just as it was important to me to know the facts and the personal experiences of other donors, I hope to now be able to mentor others with the same intent.

Until next time... can someone please send me some very hot sunshine and warm weather? I'm already gettin' the winter-time blues...  :-(

Monday, September 27, 2010

recovery

Wednesday, September 22, 2010 ::
My time in the recovery room was a bit of a blur, for the most part. Heavily drugged with Dilaudid, I still remember the moment my sister and mom entered the room to my bedside. I gave them a slippery smile and a thumbs-up, feeling so good about what had just happened. It's times like these that make me so thankful to have such a supportive and loving family. I don't know what I would have done if they weren't there. Presence is comfort and sometimes words aren't necessary.

From what I've been told, my surgery lasted 2 hours and I spent 2 hours in recovery. I remember the young man wheeling me from recovery to my room and joking with me about my crush on Derek Jeter. (Apparently he is on my mind when I'm unconscious too!) Sliding my body over from the gurney to my hospital bed was excruciating. This young man that seemed so cute and appealing only moments before was now the sounding board for every foul word I could utter - poor little fella. Anyhow, I'm in bed and then the parade of nurses and attendants begin their grand entrance. As you all know, it never stops, for the duration of your stay. Every 15 minutes someone is entering the room with a request to poke and prod. Forget sleeping because you know the minute you're just starting to fall into a nice snooze, housekeeping feels the need to empty your garbage can.

Surgery was Wednesday morning and by early evening that night, the nurse had me up and walking. That first time getting out of bed was hell, I'll admit it. I can't decide which was more painful - navigating all the IV and catheter tubes while trying to walk, or putting one foot in front of the other to make my way down the hall. If they have those little clips for all your electronic wires at home why can't they come up with some nifty little device that just clamps all that shit together in one convenient tube? I felt like a fly caught in a spider's web. Help, get me outta here! Oh, and they have these cute little signs in the hallway that mark every 50 feet so you can track the distance you've traveled on your "Road to Recovery". Hey, I have an idea, how about a rest-stop every so often with a little stand that could offer pain meds and cool beverages to get you through your next 100 feet or so? No?


Thursday, September 23, 2010 ::
Didn't sleep at all Wednesday night. I mean, at all. That bed, NO, it's not a bed, it's a giant maxi pad strapped to chicken wire, was the most uncomfortable thing I've ever been horizontal on. Seriously, the shiny, linoleum floor was looking pretty damn good by about Thursday night. Thursday morning was hell, again. My back and abdomen felt like it had been gutted and left open for the vultures to snack on. Ugh, the pain. More Percocet, please? Ah, how sweet it is. My first meal: bagel with cream cheese and jelly, apple juice, apple sauce, hard-boiled egg and hot tea - yummy!  A can of 9 Lives would have tasted good, since I hadn't eaten since 1:30 on Tuesday. I was so excited to be able to brush my teeth and wash my face. Not so excited to look in the mirror however. Maybelline, where are you?

Since the bed was so uncomfortable, and I couldn't sleep, I walked. And I walked, and I walked. Little did I know I would complete a 5K while hospitalized. It's the best thing for me, I know, and it truly is the quickest method to recovery. They told me I could go home Thursday night but since my family hadn't made plans to come pick me up until Friday, I stayed another night. I did manage to sleep 2 full hours that evening and it was like heaven.


Friday, September 24, 2010 ::
Friday morning, the surgeon stopped in to give his discharge approval and checked the womb. He said I had 'beautiful insides' and that my nephrectomy (big medical term meaning... kidney extraction) was one of his smoothest. Yeah! Seriously, this was a huge compliment to me and I felt so flattered. This, is precisely why I feel it's so important to live a healthy life. My motivation to maintain a healthy lifestyle is so that my organs, bones, blood and brain stays strong and solid to carry me for many, many more years.

The best news I received that morning was via a phone call from California from the recipients' transplant coordinator, Suzanne. I knew on Thursday morning that her transplant was successful, but had not heard any updates since.  Suzanne wanted to share with me the news that my recipient did indeed wish to contact me! You can't imagine how happy I was to hear this. As I wiped away the tears, Suzanne told me how she read my letter to the recipient and her family after she came out of recovery. She said that they were all so touched and repetitively told Suzanne to tell me 'thank you', over and over. I decided that I wanted my recipient to initially contact me via email, as opposed to a phone call. I'm really drugged up and knew that I would be for days, the last thing I wanted was to be incoherent or half asleep when I received that special call. So, as you can imagine, I have been checking my inbox every hour with anticipation of seeing a new email pop up from my special partner.

Discharge

I'm really happy here, but the Percocet has temporarily frozen my facial expressions.

My mom and brother-in-law arrived at 10:15am to take me home. The hospital gave me my Award of Appreciation and it's evident that my sister gave explicit instructions to my BIL to capture every Kodak moment available. And he did. Pretty, aren't I? 

Secured in the passenger seat, surrounded by pillows and glossed over with
yet another dose of painkillers for the rode!

May I say that the 3 hour ride from NY to my apartment was quite possibly the most uncomfortable, and longest, car rides of my life. Every little bump felt like a punch to the gut. Soooooo painful and all the pillows in the world couldn't have softened the blows. But, I made it, and pulling in my driveway was a moment to remember.

As excited as I was to exit the vehicle at home, every tiny movement hurt.

I'm home now, and so comforted by my own bed and my affectionate cat. I am sleeping all the time, or so it seems. I have to walk daily, and I do. My appetite is kicking in again but my stomach won't absorb too much food right now. Little bites and small portions, and lots of water. I feel great. I am so happy that I did this and would do all over again tomorrow, but then I wouldn't have any kidneys left at all. I am anxiously anticipating the email from my recipient and can't wait to share a part of that with you all.

My journey through all this has been probably the most meaningful experience in my life, and it's only just begun. I hope to become a mentor in the living donor community and make it my mission to spread the word about the option of being an altruistic living kidney donor. I would not have been able to do any of this without the unconditional love and support of my family. I am so blessed to have them in my life and be there for me when I need them most. I have wonderful and caring friends that have been so kind and caring during my recovery and I want you all to know how much your cards, emails, gifts and phone calls have meant to me. I love you all.

Until next time... could someone please go running for me? I miss it!



Sunday, September 26, 2010

piece of cake

My surgery went off beautifully at approximately 6am on Wednesday, September 22, 2010, and was a success for both me, and my recipient. I want to share with everyone the many details of the procedure, and my path to recovery that I've begun, but I will warn you that my writing skills will be less than average. Me and Percocet have started a beautiful relationship and I gotta say, it's a lovely ride but I'm a lil' bit foggy. I'm a lot-a-bit foggy.

Given that, let's get the party started...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010 ::
Mom and sis accompanied me to NY's Weill-Cornell Hospital where I began a day of pre-op testing at 10am. The usual pokes and prods, and I finally got to meet my surgeon, Dr. David Leeser. (Whom I might add wasn't all that bad on the eyes if ya know what I mean...) One track mind, I know. Anyhow, he proceeded to explain details of the procedure and didn't neglect to leave out the risks. I felt confident and secure with his ability, as I had done so much research on this facility and the team - I knew I had made the right decision to have my surgery at this hospital.

My breakfast that morning, at 7am, consisted of a large Starbucks latte and a berry muffin. I had plans to literally pig-out later that afternoon, in preparation for my big fast after 6pm that evening. At about 1pm, I was informed that I would not be allowed to eat anything else from that moment on. Whuh? You're kidding me, right? So, I ran downstairs and grabbed a banana and Nutri-Grain bar from the deli and inhaled it, with tears in my eyes. Instructions were given for me to begin my 'bowel cleanse' cocktail at about 4pm to prepare my pipes for surgery, drinking only 5 oz. of the 10 oz. bottle, which by the way I had to trek out and purchase myself because I'm sure that they didn't have any of those stocked up in the hospital anywhere. My first stop at the pharmacy one block away resulted in a wasted trip because they were out. Pharmacist sends me 4 blocks to yet another pharmacy that I never could find. So, I set out on an adventure to find one on my own. Walked another 4 blocks and saw a big 'DRUGS' sign in the distance and sprinted towards my destination. They had one bottle left and from the looks of it, it quite possibly could have been on that shelf for as long as I've been alive. I take it back to my room, brush of the dust and start nursing it at about 3:30pm, chugging lots of water with every sip.

Delicious, and refreshing!

Fast forward to about 7pm and I got nuthin'! Nuthin'! I'm getting a little concerned and decide to chug the last 5 oz. of the 10 oz. bottle and at 11pm I still got nuthin'. Little did they know that a Big Mac would have done the trick in less than 5 minutes, but nooooooo. Let's just say that at 3am I was awakened by a dance party in my belly that I would never welcome at any other time in my life but at that moment was ecstatic, and I raced to the bathroom.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010 ::
I arrived at the hospital at 4:45am and was greeted by a security guard that would not allow us in. I said, "Don't you know who I am?" "I'm here for a kidney donation, and my surgery is scheduled for 5am." He proceeds to tell me that nurses don't  even arrive until after 5:30am. I call my coordinator, she gets him on the phone and I think rips him a new one, and he lets us in. We proceed to check-in and that's where the Stimpson clan begins to have some fun. Anyone that knows my family, knows we can't possibly go anywhere without behaving inappropriately and violating at least one rule. My sister and her digital camera did a great job documenting the morning's event and as you can see from the photos, acting like an ass comes naturally for those of us blessed to be a part of this gene pool.

Sneaking in a little performance before the transplant team arrives.

Getting caught in the act treating the pre-op like it's a playground.

More blood is drawn, IVs are shoved into what appears to be any available vein in both my arms, vitals are taken, my signature is slapped on yet another dozen or so documents and they give me this beautiful ensemble to don.

The Fall 2010 Donna Karan lounge collection.

Why can't they make these gowns available in primary colors?
Just think, if they were red they would never show blood stains.


Dr. Leeser greets me, marks my belly and then proceeds to share with me his intention of getting a cup of coffee before he meets me in the O.R. "Hey chief, can you make it a decaf?  Please?"



Members of the transplant surgical team slowly make their arrival and introduce themselves to me. A (hot) male nurse comes in to the waiting room to get me and I begin my walk to the O.R.

Bye-bye, Mommy.  Bye-bye, sis.

Shortly after this moment, I met with the anesthesiologist, and yet another surgeon. Why is it that it's times like these that I am in the presence of what seems to be a squad of Chippendale dancers and I look like death? Hello? Was being GQ model material part of the prerequisite when you all took your medical board exam? Really? I'm anticipating a slew of overweight, middle-aged, angry female nurses and I walk into a room full of men that resemble the Australian soccer team - and I have to get nekked in front of these yummies. I digress.... I'm asked my name, for the 15th time, and they strap me down on the table. That's it. I'm in la-la land and the next thing I see is a nurse leaning over me in the recovery room.

As I said, the Percocet is driving my moves as I recover and I need to wrap up this blog session. I have much more to share, if you can stand it. I hope to return this evening with Part II of the surgery as my recovery experience begins to unfold.

Until next time... this lady is gonna take a pause and pray for a bowel movement to happen in the next 24 hours or my head is going to spin around and I'm gonna spit blood at anyone in my path.

Monday, September 20, 2010

i'm ok, solo

I'm scheduled for surgery at 5:00am on Wednesday, September 22nd at Weill-Cornell in NYC, and my most important concern is... will my cat miss me? Of course she will and she'll make my life a living hell when I return home by howling in the middle of the night for approximately 3 days to 'show me' just how much she cares. The only reason I keep her around is to remind myself how important it is to compromise and share with your companion. The way I see it, this is just good dress rehearsal for when Derek Jeter decides we should shack up together, only I'll be the one howling in the middle of the night. Oh dear... ok, moving on...

I wish I had a dime for every time someone asked me, "Are you nervous?" Because if my best friend was getting a boob job on Wednesday, I'd be asking her the same thing. The answer is, "NO, I'm not." I'm anxious, and I think that's a little different. To be honest, for the latter part of the day I've been thinking about my recipient and wondering if she has concerns at this point. I don't know about you but if someone was giving their kidney to me, I wouldn't be convinced it was a reality until I saw the surgical scar from the transplant to prove it. I wish I could tweet her or something to let her know it's all snug as a bug here and anxiously awaiting it's new home, but I don't tweet. I would tell her that I have not even come close to changing my mind, or wishing I hadn't chosen this journey. I'm so thrilled to be a part of this and not for one minute have I had a second thought about my decision. I have complete confidence in the transplant team and I am thoroughly prepared for my recovery and the patience that it will require from yours truly.

During this process, many have asked about my concerns regarding the health and fitness abilities I might have after this donation. I truly feel my active lifestyle will not be impacted because I will be left with only one kidney. I'm ok, solo. I intend to regain my strength and fitness ability in time, and am going to focus on being even stronger and healthier than I am now. I want to create new running goals and work on new challenges to keep me motivated and energized. It's so important for me to stress to everyone that living with one kidney does not increase limitations for people, physically. If I played football or participated in a contact sport, this procedure would not have been an option, because the risks are too great that I might be hit or injured severely enough to damage an organ. I gave up MMA last year for bird-watching so I'm all set.

I feel fantastic, mentally and physically. Although I'm still a little sore from my Warrior Dash on Saturday. I've never felt more alive than when I was participating in that crazy event and can't wait to do it again. I'm happy I had the opportunity to get one last race in so close to the surgery date. I'll just have to wait, patiently, for my body to heal and with any luck I'll be up and running again very soon.

Warrior Dash - Windham Mtn.    -    Muddy, but happy!

Warrior Dash - Windham Mtn.
Friends surprised me at the finish line with Donate Life banner -
perfect ending to a great race!


Tomorrow I leave home at 6:00am and will have my first appointment for pre-op at 10:00am. I then get to meet my surgeon and will be asked for one last time (I hope) to give more blood. I'm gettin' good at this game! I'll be given a lovely cocktail of some crappy tasting rotgut at 6:00pm tomorrow night to get the plumbing all cleaned out and then after what will most likely be no more than a few hours of sleep, I will be admitted for surgery at 5:00am on Wednesday.

My mother and sister will be traveling with me and they will stay with me until the doctor tells security to escort them out of the hospital for loitering. I'm grateful that I have such a wonderful relationship with my family and am thankful to them for being there for me. Now the nurses might have a different opinion but what do I care, I'll be in 'happy land' and oblivious to any chaos they might be stirrin' up to divert from their boredom.  I hope to be discharged on Friday.

I'm looking forward to sharing more when I return this weekend. I hope to be feeling well enough to visit the blog at least once and provide an update to everyone. That is if Derek will allow me to spend time away from him. (He can be so controlling at times... ugh.)

Until next time... I'm asking all my followers to please pray for my recipient, that her body accepts my kidney and that she will be able to live a much fuller life now!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

runnin' for my recipient

My surgery date has been scheduled for Wednesday, September 22, 2010!

Sure did sneak up on me, but something told me that I would not be receiving too much of an advanced notice. (A kidney-shaped 'Save the Date' card would be a nice touch, dontcha think?)  I received notice about 2 weeks ago but waited to share with everyone until I got some nugget of confirmation. The transplant coordinator at UCLA called me on Thursday to let me know that I will be required to get one more blood draw. Yep, I get to do that all over again. It was so much fun the first time! I will be FedEx'ing my blood to UCLA on Tuesday for one last final analysis by the brainiacs that calculate this crazy statistical matching process of blood types. At least it's crazy to me because I'm lost after a two-step math problem. They are so smart!

I will be sharing the itinerary of my surgery once I get it and I expect it to go something like this...
I get there and they adorn me with a beautiful, satin hospital gown, feathery slippers and a glass of Pinot Grigio to soothe me. I am transferred to a palacial, private room with soft jazz playing in the background and aromatherapy filling the air. There is a flat panel, hi-def, 40-inch TV with an unlimited number of new release flicks and a fridge filled with chocolate covered strawberries, wine, imported cheese and fresh fruit. The bed is laced with only the best Egyptian cotton sheets and a thoughtful nurse has placed a smokin' hot photo of Derek Jeter (nekked) on my bedside table with his personal thoughts and best wishes scribed on it.

Ok, it might not go exactly like that, but I'm certain it will be very, very close to it.

I'm back from la-la land. This past year I set a goal to run (5) 5Ks before the end of the year. I've exceeded that and I gotta say that it's not getting easier. I suck at it. Many of my friends are elite runners hammering out 10 mile runs on their 'easy' training days. Ugh, are you kidding me? Are you stupid? Not only is my running becoming more of a challenge, my pace is dropping, slowly. I've never been a competitive person, and truly could care less if I won or lost a card game, Monopoly, or a hot dog eating contest. My biggest competitor is myself. I'm my own worst critic and while some might say that's not exactly a healthy approach, I don't really know any other way to achieve my goals. I have always felt weird trying to 'beat' anyone, at anything. To be honest, this thing called running is a huge struggle for me. My form is pathetic, I need to nourish myself better in preparation for it and my 'everything' hurts, every time. But, it's so rewarding when I finish a race and just being able to cross the finish line is enough to motivate me to do another one.

In May, I participated in the kLaVoy 5K, in Saratoga Springs. This annual fundraiser supports Donate Life in memory of Kristen Lavoy, a local woman and kidney transplant recipient who lived freely for 15 years because of this gift.

My sign I wore, pinned to my rain-soaked jacket, during the race.

Prior to the start of the race I was introduced to Jen Salm, who is with the Donate Life Center for Donation & Transplant. She is involved with organ procurement and gave me valuable and interesting facts regarding organ donation. She is yet another special person that came into my life and impacted me on my decision to become a living donor. Thanks, Jen!

I'm running for my recipient now, and have been since I received medical clearance in July. Every time I run I have my recipient on my mind. I'm sweating and gasping for air and thinking how much pain I'm in. Then I think about the pain and discomfort she must endure every day. Her challenge is not an option, mine is. Just when I think I want to give up, or slow down, or puke (yep), I am reminded how lucky I am that I have the ability to push my body like this and I'm inspired to keep going.

Only ten days until my surgery to get in a few more hardy runs. I'm going to give it my all to be strong and complete my workout goals this week. I have my Warrior Dash race on Saturday, and I am so excited to be a part of this!  I just hope that my kidney doesn't fall out when I'm diving through mud pits and climbing over walls. I'll slap some duct tape around it prior to the start. Duct tape is the solution for everything.

I'm dedicated to being very healthy this week - in mind, body and soul. I've put down the tequila shooters, glazed donuts and chicken wings. The cha-cha heels that have smoked up the dance floor in Saratoga the past 5 weekends are in the storage closet. I've put my bungee jumping and sky diving events on hold. I'm finished with my freelance projects and will be getting some solid sleep this week. The only diversion from my clean-living week is the dysfunction junction I must attend daily, called work.

Until next time... I've begun my annual hibernation preparation at the homestead. Fleece and wool have replaced the summer apparel, and I'm in mourning. :-(

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

happy, healthy blood

Let's review, shall we? So, as I mentioned in my last post, they have found a match for me. Yeah!  The match they located is from the UCLA Medical Center, in sunny California. Their transplant coordinator mailed me a blood kit and instructed me to get one more blood test that would then be shipped to CA for the final test to complete the match process.

My primary physician's office suggested I go to a blood draw facility, where they would be more familiar with this type of unique situation for a blood test. So, I did. Last Friday I promptly made the appointment for 7am Monday morning at the local LabCorp here in Schenectady, thinking it would be so convenient to pop in on my way to work and still not be tardy. Nope. Mr. Blood-draw Man suggested I take it to Ellis Hospital's Blood Draw facility for testing, where they would be better equipped and familiar to do this type of test. Do I sound like a broken record yet? 

I drive over to Ellis Blood Lab and Ms. Blood-draw Lady says, "60 cc's of blood? We can't do that here, it's too much."  Ok, so where do I go then, Ms. You're-Letting-Me-Down-and-My-Patience-is-Wearing-Thin Lady? She tells me to go to the main entrance of the hospital and they can do it there. I get in my car and drive to the hospital, park, and am now arriving to have this test 40 minutes AFTER I was supposed to have had my original appointment at 7am. I sign the sheet at the desk. Can I just say that I'm always hesitant to sign one of these when I'm still not sure I'm in the right place to get the service I'm there for. It's like standing in a customer service line for 20 minutes to have them finally call your name only to inform you that you're in the wrong line. Who doesn't love that?!

The administrative assistant at this lab was so nice, but she too suggested they might not be able to do this test here either. Really? Ok, I have an idea - give me the needle, I'll fill the vials, box them up, slap a FedEx label on it and drop it in the orange and purple box. I mean, how difficult could this be? You throw the phlebotomist a curveball by actually being prepared with a ready-made kit for this procedure and they look at you like you are asking them to fill the test tubes with chianti instead of blood. She eventually fills 7 vials with my happy and healthy blood and sends it off FedEx.

Now what? As always, I'm not sure. I think it gets mixed with the recipient's blood and then the smarty-pants technicians come out in their white lab coats and run some crazy mathematical formulas on it and bamm! - it's a go! At least I hope so. I should be hearing from my coordinator from Weill-Cornell within a week, which at that time she will inform me of the final results and if it's positive, a surgery date will be scheduled. This is an exciting time for me right now. Not excited as in... I just stumbled across a shoe sale at Macy's kind of excitement. It's more like the type of anticipation an expecting mom might be experiencing, or the butterflies that flutter in your tummy when you're waiting to hear about a job offer.

This journey is now becoming all the more real for me. It's really happening, and it's sneaking up on me quicker than I had imagined it would. I'm loving every minute of it, and I'm so anxious for that phone call to come to inform me that my kidney is going to be transplanted into another human's body. It's absolutely amazing to me to think that we have this ability to help someone by passing off an organ to them that was once our very own. I'm fascinated that something that is coming from my body will be able to provide a better quality of life for someone.

You can do this too, ya know! Just think about it, please? It's such a small sacrifice. The urine collections, the multiple blood tests, the x-rays and body exams, the phone calls and research are nothing. Nothing. If anything, I have found that during this time, I have gained so much information and knowledge about something that quite honestly, I never knew was possible. It's been so interesting to me, and I'm intrigued by the science behind it all. I am looking forward to the next step!

Until next time... summer is coming to a close very soon, enjoy these final days outside in the sun!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

exciting news

At 3:40pm today I received a phone call from my transplant coordinator at Weill-Cornell. They have found a match for me! Unfortunately it's not Derek Jeter. Oh, wait... that's another match I'm waiting for. Hubba, hubba.

I'm so thrilled to receive this news today and much to my surprise, it has come much sooner than I anticipated. I don't know much, other than this: it's a 28 year-old female. (We might have a problem here if it's Snooki.)  Apparently her husband wanted to donate his kidney but is not a match for her. Because he is willing to donate his kidney, my kidney donation may be part of a paired donor exchange transplantation! (Watch the video imbedded in the article, it's a great story that explains this process and how if benefits so many.) See, I give mine to my recipient, her husband then gives his to yet another recipient in need, and so on, and so on.

So, what happens now you might ask? Gee, I don't know. Kinda like I haven't really known too much throughout this entire process until it's actually happening. Maybe that's a good thing. I received another phone call today, shortly after the call from Marian (my transplant coordinator). Suzanne, a living donor transplant coordinator from UCLA, called to brief me on my recipient and to explain the next step in this process. Just as I predicted, more blood. I'm not going to have any left at this rate. They will be mailing me a blood test kit and yes, I again will need to get more blood drawn. Immediately after, I will schelp it over to FedEx and overnight it to California. I have a better idea, why don't I go to California and let them draw the blood there. I've never been and could use a little vacation right about now. Once they receive my ziploc 'o blood, they do another round of tests to confirm that I am indeed a match. Within two weeks I should be getting a call to confirm that I'm ok. Soon thereafter, the transplant coordinators schedule my surgery date. Then I need to put down the glass(es) of wine. Kidding. No I'm not. Yes I am.

Throughout this journey I have been doing lots of thinking. Too much, probably. I've been thinking about the 85,000+ people out there that are in need of a kidney and what their days/weeks/months/years are like on dialysis, their quality of life and the pain and discomfort they have to endure every day. I know that I have yet to have my surgery, and that there is going to be pain and discomfort in the near future for me. But it's temporary. It's a very small sacrifice that I have to make that will enable someone to live a full life again, and for longer. I'm reaching out to my audience to please take a moment to review some information about how to be a living kidney donor at the National Kidney Registry's website. As I've said before, I know that this is not for everyone, and I get that. I also know that for many others it's only a matter of educating yourself to feel confident and comfortable about taking steps to become a living kidney donor. I did - please follow me.

Until next time... I'm taking in the sounds, sights and flavors at Saratoga Race Track this weekend - and I can't wait!

Monday, August 9, 2010

gifts

I have a close friend that gets so anxious when she receives gifts. Makes her feel uncomfortable, as she puts it. I kinda share her feelings on this, but not on my birthday. Bring. It. On! The intention is to feel self-absorbed on your birthday, and it's the one day out of the year where it's perfectly acceptable for it to be "all about me." Right?

It's the other occasions when I feel a little weird about receiving a gift - ya know, like a wedding shower. I mean, think about it for a minute, really. Let me see if I got this right - I am choosing to make a union with a partner for life (or not - oops, did I say that out loud?) and social norms have dictated that people throw presents at me because of that. I know, it was a different economic climate 50 years ago and when couples chose to marry, they didn't have a pot to piss in because they were like 12 years old. Ok, not 12 but 18. Makes sense to me that they might need a set of sheets and a pot to boil some water in (for the potatoes and cabbage). I find it's not necessary that this tradition still exists and wish it would slowly fade away to be buried with the other ridiculous ceremonial practices of the generations past. Wedding gifts today are expected, pre-selected, ostentatious, and impractical.

The gifts that I just can't seem to get enough of are the ones without the tags and the gift receipt attached. I'm talking about the gifts you receive from the heart, the ones that require the labor of love, the hours of a day, the shoulder that's there for you to cry on and the laughter from the time spent with a close friend. The gifts I love most are those of experiences, not items:
  • my mom cooking a wonderful dinner for me and baking her yummy desserts - more junk in my trunk
  • my family helping me move - only 12 times
  • my close friend spending time with me chatting and laughing over a bottle of wine - don't worry, my kidney told me it hates wine
  • surprise Sunday adventures that fill me with happiness, planned by a special friend
  • emails from old friends that have slipped away over the years
  • a card in the mail
  • a smile from a stranger - like from the cute guy at the gym that is half my age and doesn't know I exist
You get it, don't you? I know I do. These gifts are special because they are unconditional. They are not listed on an index card that Hallmark created as a suggestion to present to someone. They are presented with unconditional love, thoughtfulness and care. They are experiences, not items that can be purchased in a store. Although every girl can appreciate a little trinket, in a little box, with a little light blue logo that starts with a "T" and ends in an "s". I'm just sayin'. 

The best gift I feel that I have been given is my health. Mom, don't get your panties in a wad because I didn't say 'the green acrylic sweater you gave me for Christmas in 1985'. Sorry about that, but you'll get over it. I rarely have to think twice about an ailment I have. Why? Because I rarely have one. For those of you that are stricken with chronic pain, disease, or even a disability, I give you all the credit in the world. I can't imagine the struggle and discomfort that you must endure every day. I don't have any of those challenges in my life. I wake up, and outside of being stiff from an intense workout the day before, I feel fantastic! I am so fortunate, and blessed to have a body that is not impeded in any way. I love the feeling of getting a yearly physical and actually get excited to read the blood test results. Everything internal works just as it should - with the exception of when I consume a Jimbo combined with a Bomber's burrito too late at night. 

I really feel that God has given me this good health for a reason. My decision to donate my kidney is my unconditional gift to my recipient. I don't know who this will be, and I might not ever meet them. But that's ok, because I don't need to. This isn't about the response or reaction from the recipient. It's about my ability to pass something on to someone that will hopefully create a better life for them. I feel so fortunate to have such wonderful health that it's a no-brainer to not pay it forward. It's like a chain of goodness. I've been given this gift, now I want to give my gift. Hey, I have two of them anyway, right? That would be greedy of me to keep them both, plus I want to make room for more of my mom's desserts down there. I'm giving a gift that is very special to me that I know I appreciate and never take for granted. I know that there is someone out there that needs this, much more than I do. So, take my gift to you, and with it I hope that you can find even a small nugget of the good life that it has given me.

Until next time... word hard, but play harder - we only get one shot at this.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

spreadin' the word

Once I received medical clearance from the hospital, I felt more confident in sharing my story with friends and family. I've graduated to a new stage in this process and it's becoming so much more of a reality to me now, and I'm going to assume this feeling will only continue to grow. I'm looking forward to the next step of receiving word that they have found a match for my kidney.

Surprisingly, my mother was extremely supportive of me when I expressed to her that I was going to donate my kidney. So much so, that she piped up about an interest in the opportunity to donate as well! Hey, mom... they don't take AARP kidneys - love ya anyway. My siblings were on board with me as well, and as I expected, my brother responded with his quick sarcasm and humor that I love so much about him. I'm thinking little sister immediately downed a margarita after our phone conversation, but shared her support for me, as I knew she would. They both had questions, and I directed them to the blog to catch up on the past several weeks of my journey. What would I do without my tribe - I have the best family in the world. Ok, second best - I really wanted to be one of the Huxtables.

Talking to my friends about this was a little bit of a different challenge. I know I've pretty much opened up about this to the world, via this blog, but there are still some close friends of mine that I have yet to sit down and talk to.

One friend in particular, I'll call her Jess (because she's on the lam), reacted pretty much the way I had thought she would. Jess is in the medical field, and let me tell you, she sees it all - ya know, the gooey and slimy stuff.  So, I knew that her opinion and thoughts on being a living kidney donor would reflect the feelings of someone that is very close to medicine, doctors, disease, and unfortunate outcomes. Her concerns are valid and real, and I respect her for being honest and upfront with me. See, that's why she's my friend and that's why I love her. I admire her for her honesty and her ability to not judge, but yet express her opinions with a tender and serious intent. To top it all off, she told me that should I ever need her kidney, she would charge me for it. I'm feelin' the love.

I have yet to spend time with yet another dear friend of mine, and I hope that I will soon get the opportunity to chat about this and let her know that it's not my intent to keep anything from her, but that she is so special to me that I feel the need to tell her face to face. Jeesh, like being a new mom is more important than time with me? Hello? Put baby in the corner and let's have some coffee talk! I'm kidding, folks. I love her and new little angel to death and am very much anticipating our chat.

For those of you that are considering being a kidney donor, I want to offer my opinion on how to comfortably share your news with those you love, and not be overwhelmed with anxiety and doubt. I decided from the beginning that regardless of what reaction and response I received from anyone, my decision was made up and I would not be backing down because of an unfavorable comment. The challenge for me was to be able to share my decision with everyone and not get too emotional from their response. I hesitated with my mom, and I did with Jess too, but it was because I love them so much. It's human nature to want to feel support when you need it the most, but the reality is that you don't always get it. You also don't always have the ability to convince someone to embrace something the same way that you have chosen to. Our friends are special to us because they are not exactly like us, so we have to understand that they won't always be able to agree with us.

Another bit of advice to any donor that is anticipating a challenging discussion with parents and friends - use the internet to connect to other living donors prior to these talks. Having conversations with donors about their experiences throughout their journey will open you up to a realm of situations that you might be faced with once you share your story. I am so thankful to Cara, Hope and Diane for sharing their advice on how to cope with my hesitation about telling everyone of my decision. I felt so much more prepared after talking with them.

So, I'm thinking that there are still going to be many others that I run into who will inquire about 'news' that they heard regarding me, and I will have to elaborate. And that's A-OK with me! I'm happy to share my journey with others. The more I can spread the word about the opportunity we all have to be a living kidney donor, the more successful my quest becomes. If through my journey I can enlighten just one person to be a donor, then I feel like I have made progress. It's kinda like that Breck commercial from the 70's... "she'll tell two friends, and they'll tell two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on..."

Until next time...  download the podcast of the Bob and Sheri Show - you will be amazed as to how these two people can bring laughter and meaning to your life!