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!


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:

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.

             " 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...  :-(