Memories of One Mom’s Donor Evaluation

Besides the gamut of medical tests, the donor evaluation entails interviews with a psychologist, a social worker, a financial counselor, a surgeon, and a transplant nephrologist. Coordinating it all and providing lots of support, is a transplant nurse coordinator. This team of professionals was assigned to me. My recipient–my son–had his own. The idea was to avoid any conflict of interest and to ensure that the donor not feel pressured in any way. These providers had my interests at heart, and every one of them had been forewarned that I was a wimp. They were cool with that. They never made me feel foolish or ashamed for thinking about queasiness or dizziness at such a critical time for my son (I did that myself).

The social worker wanted to be sure I’d thought this through. We had a teenage daughter who was dealing with her own adolescent struggles. Also, we’d recently moved my elderly father down from New York, and though he didn’t live with us, I was his primary caregiver. “You’re the glue that’s holding this all together,” the social worker pointed out. “What’s going to happen when you need care yourself?” The question prompted lots of soul searching and discussions. My husband was very supportive of my decision (he’d also wanted to donate but was eliminated) and was already shouldering more than his share, so I knew we’d manage somehow. My main concern was the added stress on him.

Throughout the donor testing—the umpteen blood draws, X-rays, a stress cardiogram, CT angiography, lung function test, and more—my nurse coordinator was just a phone call away. Knowing my wimp background, she always offered gentle encouragement; accommodations like arranging to draw as much blood at a time as possible to avoid sticking me extra times; useful tips, such as lidocaine to numb my arm for the blood draws; and, thankfully, a warm sense of humor.

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After each test I’d call her nervously to see if I’d passed. I knew that even after months of successful test results, I could still be eliminated. (I know someone who was actually eliminated the night before the scheduled surgery. She was devastated.) Hmmn, how would I really feel if I were disqualified? Would I secretly be relieved (after all, I’d tried)? Much to my surprise, I realized I’d be crushed. I’d gone through many stages of adjustment in my decision to be a donor: initial determination, wavering, a new resolve, cautious optimism, and solidly back to determination. So when the psychologist later asked if I was still sure I wanted to do this, I had to laugh. “Ohhh yeah,” I said without hesitation.  

The Greatest Gift

Carol Offen

Between us, my son and I have four kidneys—not very remarkable, except that he has three of them. I gave him one of mine about twelve years ago. The reason was simple: after spending nearly two years on dialysis, he clearly needed the kidney and I didn’t. I still had another that worked just fine so it was a perfect opportunity to share resources within the family. Today even unrelated people in different parts of the country can do the same, thanks to sophisticated computer algorithms. But this was more than twelve years ago.

My son, Paul, had the extraordinarily bad luck to develop chronic kidney disease—which can gradually lead to kidney failure—when he was in college. He was otherwise healthy, we had no family history of it, and he didn’t have diabetes or hypertension. Plus he was skinny.

What he had was a lingering strep infection.

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This post is excerpted from an article I wrote for the Fall 2018 issue of South Writ Large, a quarterly online magazine published since 2007. The theme of the issue was sharing resources, so living kidney donation was a natural fit.