Ode to My (Remaining) Kidney

Like most people, I was born with two kidneys and they’ve served me well. Since 2006, the left one has been working in my son’s body and doing a terrific job. That’s the one that gets all the attention. So, as National Kidney Month draws to a close, I thought it only fair to devote this blog post to that unsung hero, my remaining kidney.

It (he? she?) has worked solo ever since its partner moved to my son’s body so many years ago. Is it lonely? Does it feel abandoned, I wonder.

I’m a bit ashamed to admit that she (yes, I’ve decided it’s a she) doesn’t even have a name. After an informal contest among friends and family, my son’s (formerly my) kidney was dubbed the Comeback Kidney.

But my righty has never clamored for attention or tried to claim the spotlight from her perch above my waist toward the back. She’s been doing a masterful job, taking up the slack ever since her partner upped and left, with nary a complaint.

Initially, as was expected, I lost 25% to 35% of overall kidney function. But my little fist-sized pal gradually got a little plumper, and my kidney function built up to a normal level. As I’ve written before, even if she hadn’t managed her own “comeback,” a slightly higher new normal for a living donor is just fine.

Not only did she rise to the task, in fact, she exceeded expectations. Filtering waste from my blood, reflected in creatinine level, is probably her biggest job.  A “normal” creatinine reading for most women is under about 1.0. At my last check-up, mine was .75, enviable at any age. Even my GFR, a formula that uses creatinine plus age, sex, race, and weight to estimate overall kidney function, is an impressive 80 (anything over 60 is normal). It’s common for anyone’s kidney function to decline with age, so at 72, I’m very proud of that reading.

If keeping toxins out of my blood were all that she did, I’d still be justifiably proud of her. But she does so much more. She keeps my blood pressure down, removes extra fluid, makes urine, balances nutrients, makes red blood cells to keep me from being anemic… I could go on. Think about it: she’s been doing all that alone. You’d never know it from my lab work, of course, which would be impressive for a healthy nondonor of any age.

Thank you for all that you do, righty! (True, it’s not the most original name, but I think I’ll use it till I can think of something more creative.)

I’ve never seen a lung-shaped swimming pool, have you? Or a pancreas bean? Other than the heart, can you think of any bodily organ that’s so recognizable and endearing enough to inspire cuddly plush toys? Obviously, there’s good reason for that honor.

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