A Donate Life Month Quiz

To be a living kidney donor, you have to be (a) young, (b) a family member of the recipient, (c) brave, (d) all of the above, or (e) none of the above?

(a) Wrong. I was 58. In fact, more than a third of living donors are over 50.

(b) Wrong. Though the largest group of donors are indeed family members, unrelated donors are an increasingly large portion of living donors.

(c) Wrong. “Brave” is certainly not a word ever used to describe me! As a self-described wimp, I relied heavily on my supportive and caring transplant team, who did all they could to accommodate my needs and concerns. The experience proved to be much easier than I expected (certainly easier than childbirth!).

(d) Wrong.

(e) Bingo! Happily, none of the above.

April Is National Donate Life Month!

Whether you’re a living kidney donor (like me) or a registered organ donor with a little heart on your driver’s license (also like me), thank you for giving someone a chance at a healthy life! As you may know, more than 100,000 people in this country are on years-long waiting lists for an organ (most of them in need of a kidney). Registering to be an organ donor is easy and quick: just go to http://organdonor.gov, and then be sure to tell your family of your wishes. National Donate Life Month shines a spotlight on organ donation in the hopes of shortening the long wait for a life-saving organ.

So many people can be saved from just one registered donor with two kidneys, a liver, two lungs, a heart, a pancreas, and intestines–and, since 2014, even hands and faces. However, even if everyone registered, there just aren’t enough deceased-donor organs to go around. Did you know that less than 1% of people die in such a way that their organs can be used (typically in a hospital following an accident), though, fortunately, corneas, tissues, blood stem cells, and bone marrow can still be used? That’s why it’s so important to have as large a pool of potential donors as possible.

See my little heart on the right? You can have one, too.

It’s also one of the many reasons that live donation is so important. (We’ll talk more about the benefits of live donation in another post.) Every time someone on the list gets a live donor–and can be removed from the wait list–it shortens the wait for the others on the list. Please help save a life by registering to be an organ donor.

National Kidney Month and National Women’s Month

Yes, March is National Kidney Month and National Women’s Month. What do kidneys and women have in common, you ask? Both groups are underappreciated! We can hope that someday we will get to a point where we don’t need to introduce people to integral aspects of our culture and our history (like Black History Month). For now, though, we obviously do. And this month we highlight the critically important role women play in our society. Similarly, we highlight the critically important role the kidneys play in our body.

Do you know what your kidney function is? You may think you know what women contribute to daily life, but do you know what kidneys do? For starters, they remove dangerous toxins from the blood, regulate the amount of fluids in our body, maintain the salt content of those fluids, balance minerals, produce urine, promote bone health, and so much more.

I’ve had a healthy respect for kidneys ever since my son was in dialysis. For nearly 2 years, dialysis machines, doctors, nurses, and technicians did a masterful job of trying to approximate what healthy kidneys manage to do every day.

Yet even with doing their damndest to get this juggling act all right, dialysis could produce only about 20% of normal kidney function. One-fifth.

Like women, kidneys pull off much of their heroic daily work quietly, often without calling attention to themselves. That’s why when kidneys are starting to fail, we usually don’t notice. About 30 million Americans have chronic kidney disease—meaning they’re gradually losing kidney function—and most of them don’t know it. It’s called “the silent killer” because people usually don’t feel sick (and often look fine) until it’s dangerously far along. I know of people who just had a routine screening at a health fair, or went to the ER for a broken arm, or just didn’t feel right—only to learn, to their shock, that their kidneys were failing significantly and they needed to start dialysis ASAP.

My son knew he had kidney disease ever since it was diagnosed following a strep infection when he was in college. He was otherwise healthy and was told to monitor the condition with routine blood tests, which he did, never showing or feeling any symptoms. It was only at a routine checkup soon after his college graduation that the tests showed a precipitous decline in his kidney function. Within a month he was having surgery to put in an access point for dialysis, in 3 months he was undergoing dialysis 3 days a week, and close to 2 years later, he was welcoming my left kidney into its new home. It’s lived there happily since 2006, by the way. (My right kidney is managing fine without it.)

So, this month, please make an appointment to have your kidney function checked with a simple blood test. (And be sure to thank a woman every day!)

5 Truths about Becoming a Living Kidney Donor

There are still many myths about what’s involved in donating a kidney, and here are a few. I first included these in an article in 2017 and have already needed to update a couple of them because many aspects of the process have gotten easier. How many of the questions can you answer correctly?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

True or False: The surgeon removes a rib to get to the donor’s kidney.

False: Thanks to minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery (the standard of care), I had two tiny slits and a three-inch bikini incision.

True or False: Donors must be young.

False: More than a third of living kidney donors are over 50. It’s the health of the kidney–plus the donor’s overall health–that counts. I was 58 when I donated mine.

True or False: Donors stay in the hospital for a few weeks.

False: A typical stay is now 1 or 2 days.

True or False: Donors need to miss work for 3 to 6 months.

False: I could have gone back to my sedentary job as an editor in 2 or 3 weeks. A laborer might need a couple of months.

True or False: There’s no turning back.

False: You can change your mind at any point.  My transplant nurse coordinator, social worker, psychologist, nephrologist, and transplant surgeon all assured me that I could.  My son would be told only that I had been eliminated.

I just discovered an embarrassing glitch (aka technological error) in this brief post, so I’ve corrected it and reposted. It’s drawn (and updated) from an earlier, longer post I wrote for WELD’s blog. The original 2017 article appeared on the National Kidney Foundation website.