What does it take to be a match to donate a kidney? You must be in good health with no indicators that you will develop any major diseases (diabetes, heart disease etc.) in the next twenty years. Screenings to meet the health qualifications are rigorous. Most donors are ruled out even if they are a match during this process. Of course your kidneys must also be a suitable size to transplant into the recipient and in good working order.
Our screening process began in August. I was required to update all my regular health screenings. This involved getting a mammogram, annual exam, TB test and basic blood work. Once these were confirmed as clear I moved on to the cross matching to see if Gavin was likely to reject my kidney. Blood transfusions, pregnancies and other major trauma’s to the system can increase the number of antigens you have in your body ready to fight and reject a donated kidney. My health history is pretty clear. My two pregnancies were both carrying “type 0” babies so there was no major antigen issue. I have never had a blood transfusion.
Gavin’s history is largely unknown. We know and can guess due to the scars on his body that he underwent many surgeries before he was adopted. There is no record to show whether he had blood transfusions.
Thankfully our cross matching was negative and we were deemed a suitable match.
The next phase of testing for donation involved another round of blood tests (29 vials!), urinalysis, 24 hr. urine output test, abdominal ultrasound to check my kidneys, liver and gall bladder and glucose tolerance test. These tests were all determined to be fine and we are now in the scheduling phase for my last round of testing. This will consist of a CT scan of my kidney, a chest x-ray, electrocardiogram, and a psychological exam. Apparently you have to be crazy enough to want to donate a kidney but not tooooo crazy? Once I pass this round of testing I will travel to Gavin’s location and meet with the surgical team for a pre surgery consult. Then about a month later I will return for the donation.
Surgery will be done laproscopically and will require at least a two day stay in the hospital. Once I am to expect about two weeks of pain and several weeks or months of fatigue as my remaining kidney takes over for the one that will be donated. In the end I will have a few small scars and Gavin will hopefully have 20 years of life without dialysis before my donated kidney wears out.
I know that many potential donors are screened out due to health issues during the testing phase but I also now strongly believe many people back out. It is a long process that is pretty invasive and you have a LOT of time to think about how donating will effect your life. I don’t mean the physical aspect, which to me seems entirely minimal, but the financial, emotional and social aspect.
There is no ongoing support for donors after donating. The responsibility for the recipient’s insurance coverage of your health ends when you are discharged from the hospital. In past years the donor faced the real possibility their own insurance would deny coverage or cancel their policy based on the donation. The cost of travel, food and hotel is the responsibility ultimately of the donor. On top of those costs I will be unable to work for a minimum of two weeks and potentially longer. There is no paid leave for being a kidney donor, so this is a concern! I will also need to pay others to do some of the things I will be physically incapable of doing for a few months. This is the real worry and cost of donating. I have set up a site for donations to help with these costs.
Emotionally I will have to deal with the fears of my children that I could die during surgery or from complications. The risk is very minimal, but it is a major abdominal surgery and their fears while largely unfounded are real. I personally feel the benefits to them of learning about service to others and the value of human life far outweigh the emotional toll this may take on them.
Gavin’s family will also have added financial burdens. He will have his one remaining kidney removed about 4-6 weeks before surgery. He will need to travel one hour each way three days per week for dialysis. Gavin’s family has four other small children who will need childcare during this time. His family has started a shoe drive to help cover some of these costs. Any type of shoe with intact soles and no holes in them are suitable for donation. They also have a “Go Fund Me” page set up if you would just like to donate. Anything helps!