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Friday, April 29, 2011

Losing Weight to Donate a Kidney

"I'm concerned about my Belly Fat", I said to the doctor as I lay on the exam table.  "Do I have too much Belly Fat for the doctors to be able to find my kidney?"

I was about to undergo a physical examination, part of a 1-day work-up at the Transplant Center.  A nurse had just drawn gallons and gallons (well, it seemed that way!) of blood from my body for crossmatch testing, so maybe that accounts for my unusual candor about being overweight.

The doctor smiled and nodded civilly, then proceeded to poke and prod, asked me to inhale and exhale, peered into my eyes, ears, and at my tongue.

Then she checked my belly.

She looked at me sternly and said, very matter-of-factly: "Well, I've gotta be honest with you..." She held her perfectly slender index finger a fraction of a millimeter above her elegantly poised thumb. "...You're this close to not being allowed to donate a kidney.  You can do it right now, but if you gain ANY weight, you won't be allowed.  If you lost even a little weight, that would be GREAT."

My mind was about to go into self-pity mode: why did I allow my weight to pile on like this? Why didn't I do something about it when it wasn't an urgent situation?

I could see it now: they've cut me open, and the head surgeon says, "Where's her kidney?  I can't find it!  There's too much fat for us to even SEE the kidney... Upgrade the laser beam to UltraBright and pass me a longer knife!!!"

That train of thought was futile.  I forced myself to go to solution mode: What Am I Going To Do About My Weight?

I didn't want to go on any crazy eating regimen.  I decided that whatever I did would have to be something I could sustain for life, that would be holistic and healthy and realistic and portable (as in, I can eat that way wherever I find myself in the world).  That meant: no all-grapefruit diets,  no meal substitutes, no pills or potions.  I had already begun a regimen of regular exercise - jogging, working out on my elliptical trainer, doing resistance training circuits - so what I needed was to change the way I eat.

The very next day, I embarked on what I'll call my Semi-Diet.  I call it that because it's semi-vegan, semi-raw-foodist, semi-for-diabetes-patients.  My Semi-Diet consists mainly of raw fruits and veggies, and a few nuts and seeds.  I occasionally eat chicken, fish, or eggs but when I do I eat them with raw & steamed veggies only (eg spinach & tomato omelet - yummy!)  If I feel for bread or any other starchy food, I have it with veggies only.  Like yesterday, I had THE MOST DELICIOUS veggie wrap I've EVER had in LIFE.  And  on the rare occasion that I want to indulge in a typical Jamaican meal, I'll fill up HALF my plate with veggies, and split the rest between the meat and the complex carbs.

It's been a blast!  It's been about 3 weeks since I've changed my diet, and already I'm feeling WAYYY more energetic, my persistent sinus issues have improved significantly, AND I'm beginning to lose a little weight.  I feel stronger when doing my resistance training and I'm able to endure longer stretches of jogging.  Yeah!!! Bellyfat be gone!!!  The surgeon WILL be able to find my kidneys with the regular laser beam!

I think I'm liking this lifestyle.  Now the only question is: once the surgery is done, how will I keep myself motivated to stay on my journey to health and fitness?  I don't know, since the goal would have changed.  But right now... I'm enjoying the ride.

Who knew the decision to donate a kidney would lead me to taking my health more seriously?

At the beginning of my Semi-Diet
2 weeks into my Semi-Diet

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It's HARD to Give Away Your Own Kidney!

It is much harder to give away a kidney than you would imagine.

Once I offered my kidney to my friend, the first step was to convince him that yes, I really AM willing to give him on of my kidneys.

Then I needed to find out if I have the same blood type as his.  That's the first of a whole LIST of preconditions if you want to be a 'directed living donor'.

Living donor: a living person who is donating one of their organs (or part of an organ) 
Directed donation: the living donor specifies who should receive the donated organ - usually a relative or friend, but sometimes a stranger!

The blood test was done, and... my friend and I have exactly the same blood type!  That was really great news: my friend can give blood to anyone, but can receive blood only from someone with the same blood type as his.

He contacted the Transplant Center, and within days I received a call from Maria, the Living Donor Coordinator.  She thanked me for my willingness to enter the Living Donor program, then proceeded to ask me a raft of questions regarding my medical history.
Are you diabetic?  Pre-diabetic? Are you hypertensive? Pre-hypertensive?  Do you smoke? How much do you weigh? How tall are you?  How much do you weigh?
(Ok, she really didn't ask that twice, but answering that particular question was REALLY traumatic for me!)
Do you have heart problems? Cancer? What about your family medical history?
Maria gave me an overview of the  donor evaluation process, and asked if I were willing to continue to the next step: testing for my compatibility with the patient. That testing would involve drawing blood.  A lot of blood.  

I'm afraid of needles.  In high school I successfully evaded the tetanus vaccination - only to face it again 12 years later when it was required for travel.

I would be extensively and intensively tested, not only for compatibility with the recipient, but also for my overall health AND the health of my kidneys.
"Once you've agreed to be considered a donor, you'll go through an in-depth assessment of your health. It's your health that is of utmost importance to the transplant team. What they want to know is that: 
  • Your blood type is compatible with the recipient's blood type, and how your tissue antigens match to the recipient's antigens, 
  • You are healthy enough to withstand major surgery and recover completely, and 
  • You have a healthy kidney—preferably the left one—to donate, and you have a healthy kidney to keep—one that can compensate for the loss of a kidney."
- from Living Donors Online 

...That was just the intro to Phase 1 of the evaluation. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Why I'm Trying to Give Away a Kidney

My friend was born with Polycystic Kidney Disease - PKD for short.  There are 2 forms of PKD, and he has the form that is inherited from a parent who has the disease.  It doesn't skip a generation.
Polycystic kidney disease... causes numerous cysts to grow in the kidneys. These cysts... slowly replace much of the kidneys, reducing kidney function and leading to kidney failure. 
- National Kidney Foundation -
My friend's kidneys have deteriorated to 10% functionality, so medically he is in end-stage kidney failure.  There are two life-extending options open to him: dialysis, and transplantation.

Were he to go on dialysis, he'd be hooked up to machines which do what healthy kidneys do - remove waste products from the blood, maintain safe levels of sodium, potassium and phosphorous in the body, and regulate blood pressure.  He'd probably be on dialysis 3 days each week, for maybe 4 hours each time.

With transplantation, he gets a healthy kidney from a live or deceased donor.  For the rest of his life, he will be monitored by his medical team AND he will take immunosuppressive medication, which will prevent his body from rejecting the transplanted organ.

If my friend did not have a live donor, he would have been placed on the national waiting list.  More than likely he would have to begin dialysis while waiting on a kidney.
A successful kidney transplant frees patients from the need for dialysis, and is a more effective treatment for kidney failure... Transplant patients have less restrictions and a better quality of life than do dialysis patients. Most people feel better and have more energy than they did on dialysis. 
- RenalInfo.Com -
My friend's father died after 10 years of being on dialysis.  He was never on a waiting list for a donated kidney.

A transplant isn't a cure, but it's the closest thing to it.  My friend's nephrologist (kidney specialist doctor) floods him with success stories.  The transplant center that's dealing with my friend's process is one of the best in the USA, with success rates that exceed the national average.  My friend has lots of first- and second-hand testimonials from people who are living with a transplanted kidney.  These include a woman who's been living with a donated kidney for twelve years.  There's also a  Jamaican gentleman who spent hours on the phone with my friend telling him about his own experiences pre- and post-surgery.

Backed by lots of prayer and the evidence of statistics, my friend and I are optimistic that his quality of life will improve tremendously once he receives his kidney.

My kidney.