Posts Tagged With: Health Impact

From a Donor to Potential Donors

Brian Kunz donated a kidney to a friend in a live donor transplant.  His story inspired us so much, we thought it worth sharing with all of you.  No one understands the struggles, debates, and challenges of making this life altering decision better than someone who has done it.  If you’d like to be put in contact with Brian, please send us an email at livingdonorlove@gmail.com.

When I look back at my experience and try to reflect on whether I would recommend someone to donate a kidney, my first thoughts were to look at the initial process: what I went through in making this decision and ultimately being qualified or not.

In reality, though, the process is what the process is.  There are specific steps that people go through in a fairly methodical manner, and everyone has to go through it.  On reflection, more important were the experiences after the initial procedure and how, if at all, my life has changed.

A couple notes on the procedure and my hospital stay.  Northwestern has a phenomenal program.  My recipient and I went into the hospital on a Monday morning at 6am and things just flowed.  By 2pm that day, I was in my room resting, post procedure.  By 4pm the following day I was on my way home, somewhat sore but much more comfortable than I would have imagined.  My recipient was home in time for dinner the next day.  I was “off” work for two full weeks, although, as I was feeling well enough, I actually worked from home. By the third week I was back in the office part-time.

As I write this, it has been ten and a half months since the procedure and I feel great.  (Okay, I probably should be working out more but I am fine otherwise.)  About a month after the procedure I began working out (cardio first and then some lighter weights) and progressed from there.  About three months after the procedure, I was running a few times a week and this summer I went back to golfing (if you could call it that when you play as bad as I do.)

I am not the best with my dietary habits and pretty much have gone back to my pre-op bad habits of eating just about anything.  Northwestern has follow-up check-ins over the first two years, and so far all my “numbers” are in line.  I do go for annual physicals on my own, and I always make sure my provider knows I am a donor, especially if he prescribes meds.  I do this to ensure that I do not take anything that will have an adverse effect on my remaining kidney.

Mentally/emotionally? I have no regrets and am solid with my decision. For my family and me this was a somewhat easy decision.  First, I really like my recipient, who is my next-door neighbor.  He is a great guy with a wonderful wife and two great children.  As his family has some issues with this disease, he didn’t want any family members to be donors.  Second, my family did not have any history of any type of kidney disease.  Northwestern goes beyond looking at just the kidney function; with my family’s general history, we viewed my donating a kidney as a limited risk.

The experience has been truly rewarding.  Every time I see my neighbor and how well he is doing, it puts a smile on my face.  I am proud that I was able to help someone in a way that made a difference in so many lives: his family, their friends, my family, and our friends. I don’t know how to describe it, but I look at him differently now.  He is no longer just a good neighbor; I view him as a family member.  Sharing this experience with him and his family has brought both of our families closer together.

Would I advise someone to do this? It has to be their choice.  I can only provide my insight into the situation.  Would I have done this for someone I didn’t know? Probably not, at least not initially.  Would I now recommend someone doing it for someone in need? Yes, I would suggest at least considering it. For me, donating to someone who I knew was easy.  Donating to someone you may not know may be a little more difficult of a decision, but in my opinion it would feel equally rewarding.

Each person needs to make this decision – this life-long decision – based on what is best for them and their family. My wife, Lara, said that one of my first statements upon my coming out of surgery was, “I made the right decision. ”  I still feel that way.

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FAQs for Donors

Potential Donor FAQ’s

Who can donate?

Donors are often a close relative such as a parent, brother or sister, son or daughter but may also be individuals who are not related but have an established emotional relationship with the recipient such as a partner or close friend. Sometimes a donor and a recipient may be incompatible with each other because of blood group or tissue-type and in this case it may be possible for them to be paired with another donor and recipient in the same situation. This means that each recipient will benefit from a transplant that they would otherwise not have had (this is called paired donation). Donors may also offer to give a kidney to someone who is on the waiting list for a transplant but whom they have never met before (this is called non-directed altruistic donation).

How will I know if I am suitable to donate?

You will have a thorough medical and surgical and psychological assessment to establish that you are fit and healthy to donate. A number of people who wish to donate find that they are not able to do so because health problems are discovered through the assessment process. Members of the healthcare team involved in your assessment include counsellors, coordinators and social workers. Gary has chosen the Northwestern Memorial Hospital Kovler Organ Transplantation Center.  For more information you can call 312-695-0828.

Do I need to be related to the person who may receive the kidney?

While it is commonly family members who offer to be kidney donors, there are often spouses, friends, members of the community, or people from the same place of worship who can be highly successful kidney donors. Being related is not a requirement to donate a kidney.

Are there any risks to the donor?

All operations carry some risk and this is no different for living donation. Donors are at risk of infections (e.g. chest, wound or urine) and, more rarely, bleeding or blood clots. There is a very small risk of death for the donor: this is estimated at 1 in 10,000 for this operation.

Are there any long-term risks?

There is a possibility of a rise in blood pressure and excess protein in your urine. However studies have shown that there is no long-term effect on the health of the donor or your remaining kidney.

Will I have to change my lifestyle after donating?

There is no specific reason why you should not be able to lead a normal healthy life as before.

Will donating my kidney affect a future pregnancy or fathering a child?

The small amount of data available shows that, having donated one kidney, there is no evidence to suggest an increased risk of complications during pregnancy. A man’s fertility will not be affected.

Will I be covered by my health insurance?

You should check with your insurance company. If there is more than one transplant hospital in your city, insurance might not allow you to go to both. However, Gary’s health insurance will cover the costs of the donor’s evaluation and transplant.

What if I live in a different part of the country from the person I am donating to?

You can still donate. The transplant team can arrange for your donor assessment to take place at a hospital near you if that is more convenient for you. Usually the donation will take place in the hospital where the person you are donating to is cared for. However, different arrangements can be made depending upon individual circumstances for both the donor and recipient. There are organizations that could help you with the travel and living expenses.

How long does the donor assessment process take?

This varies. You should check with your hospital. In general, this will take approximately two to six weeks. There is variation depending upon where you live and what tests you may require. Wherever possible, the assessment is tailored to your needs and commitments.

 How much time will I need to take off work?

Most transplant centers will try to arrange the tests before the operation around your work schedule to minimize disruption to your job. It is sometimes possible to arrange for some of this to be done locally if the donor lives a long way from the transplant center. The operation and recovery period varies depending on surgery, your individual recovery and the type of work you will be resuming.  Many people that have a desk job are back to work in three weeks. If your job is physically demanding, you might need six weeks or more to resume all your prior activities.

 How long will I be in hospital?

This varies depending on your individual recovery. Many donors only spend one day in the hospital. It is not uncommon for someone to have to spend 2 or 3 days in the hospital to recover.

Will I need to take any medication after donating?

You will need to take some painkillers immediately after the operation and during the recovery period. However, you should not need any long-term medication as a result of kidney donation.

What about follow-up?

You would usually be seen by the transplant team between two and six weeks after donation.

 Do some donors have trouble making the decision?

Some people make the decision easily. Others go through some soul searching before deciding. Being afraid of donating a kidney or feeling guilty about not wanting to donate is quite normal. The only “right” decision is the one that makes you, the potential donor, feel comfortable. Finding out more information about living donation and what it involves may help you with this decision.

Can I speak to somebody who has donated?

Your coordinator at your local transplant center should be able to arrange this for you. Also, ask about the Living Kidney Donors Network Mentors Program. In addition, Brian Kunz, a BJBE congregant, has graciously offered to speak with any prospective donor for Gary.  Brian can be reached at kunzbrianj@aol.com.

What if I decide that being a donor isn’t for me?

You have the right to withdraw your offer at any time and you would be supported in your decision by the transplant team.

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