Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Receiving the Call

So, there I stood, October 27, 2008. At 3 am. In the middle of the bedroom with a telephone to my ear, shaking Susan violently to wake her up, trying to hear and understand what Bettina was saying, and now trying to tell Susan what was going on and talk to Bettina. All at the same time. It was quite confusing. And exciting.

So the gist was this. She was making the offer of a kidney, BUT it was considered a high-risk kidney. She would give us a few minutes to make a decision.

WHAT??? Is this a reality show???

The risk involved the life history of the donor. He had gone through a period of IV drug use, but the family said he had been sober for the last four years. During that time he had married and had a young son. The blood was clean and there was no evidence of HIV, hepatitis or any other blood born pathogens. We were not the first to be offered the kidney. Bettina did tell me that I was an excellent match and that she would call back in a few minutes.

Now, Susan and I had a quick, life-or-death conversation, putting quite a strain on our not-yet-awake brains. Our initial instinct was to take the kidney. We were not biased by the history of drug use, but my concern was the reliability of testing for blood born pathogens. So, off to the internet!

Initial Google searches produced a lot of generalized numbers and professional sites where you  pay for access to hard data, but real numbers meaningful to real folk like us were hard to find. So we turned to the ultimate source of reliable data for the masses, Wikipedia. Here were numbers, lots of numbers, all footnoted to various medical journals, and easy to read. Best of all, the numbers showed that medical science seems to have blood testing down, well, to a science. At least as far as HIV, hepatitis and worrisome pathogens were concerned. Performance enhancing cocktails for athletes is another story.

We looked at one another and hugged. Our decision was made. But I cautioned Susan that the deal was not closed. There would be many more blood checks and matching tests before transplantation could occur. Several possible matches are brought in for every organ and the kidney goes to the best match. During the course of dialysis I had seen a number of patients be called in for a transplant only to come back to dialysis after the kidney went to a someone else.

It seemed like hours before Bettina called back. It was difficult to keep emotions in check as I told her we would accept. She seemed to be as excited as we were.

Time for logistics. I was scheduled to be at dialysis at 5 am, which was great timing as my blood would be cleaned prior to surgery which they hoped would happen late that afternoon. But first I had to go to Baylor Dallas for blood draws. Then I would go to dialysis and then we would drive straight to Baylor All Saints in Fort Worth late in the morning.

Time for a little technical transplant talk. UNOS (the national organ-sharing bank, check them out) divides the nation into regions around transplant centers. When organs become available they look first at that region. If a suitable match is not found, the search area expands. Each center and region has a list and patients can be listed on more than one list. The catch is that you have to be able to get to the transplant center quickly and remain in that area for 6-8 weeks after transplant for monitoring. Dallas and Fort Worth are centers of two different regions and Baylor Transplant Services administers programs in both cities. It was easy for me to be on both lists.

Now it was a mad dash to throw on some clothes and head to the hospital, which is about 10 minutes from the house. Once there it took 20 minutes to find the right lab. We finally found life in maternity where a kind nurse took us right down the hall to the lab. They quickly drew many vials of blood and we headed to dialysis. I had called and told them why I was going to be late. After many hugs I was rushed into the center and hooked onto my machine for the last time.


  1. You kinda skipped the family agonies and debates over organ donation that's been making all the news lately...or are you going to go into that later?
    Anyway, happy birthday to you and your kidney. You're a wonderful person and brother. xxoomm

  2. Yes, there's a lot of story left to tell, but the need to tell the story in a day by day fashion became compelling.