What's it like to donate an organ?

CINCINNATI - What's it like giving an organ to someone in need?

I would never have sought out the situation. It just happened to sort of fall into my lap. My sister, Renee, informed me that her sister-in-law (her husband's sister), Susan, needed a kidney transplant. Susan has been diabetic since she was a little kid and the disease had taken its toll on her kidneys. Complicating Susan's needs – she is adopted and no one in the family who raised and loved her was even her blood match.

When I heard this, my husband and I immediately piped up that we would get tested. And really, that was the end of that.  I didn't know what it meant to me or my family or anyone else for that matter, but go figure, I was a match. A very strong match for Susan. The doctor informed us that to be a closer match, would mean we were twins.

Now, when you hear this information – that you are a match – it takes your breath away. It's one thing to wonder. It's another to know. And it's a much bigger thing to breathe in and out and walk forward to commit to continuing the testing to become a donor.

And that's what happens. You are looked at by doctors, through MRIs and all kinds of things to make sure you are healthy enough to continue with the process. I mean, very selfishly, I now know that I am a perfectly healthy human being. Even mentally. Doctors talk to you to make sure you are becoming a donor for the right reasons.

I had the love and support of my family. My husband never wavered and my children were gifts of positivity. I can't possibly tell you how easy my decision was to donate because my family said they would be proud of me and love me through it.

Same with most of my friends. All but one person that I counted as a friend supported my decision. It was a tremendous boost of confidence.

All of those people gave me the strength to go into that surgery day at peace. I wasn't nervous. Not even a little bit. After surgery, I stayed in the hospital less than 24 hours. Less than 24 hours! Insane, but true. I couldn't believe the care I received. It was magnificent.

The first few days of recovery definitely had its ups and downs. I was told to walk each day, and I did.  My husband would walk with me.  At first, it was to my neighbor's driveway.  The next day, two houses down and home.  And that would be it for the day.  I would be exhausted and ready for a multi-hour nap.  I had pain medication, but I only stayed on it for a few days.  After that, the pain was tolerable enough that I only needed over-the-counter medication.

I have heard stories of people getting very emotional.  I, a truly emotional person, did not. Not really. I could roll over in my bed the first night I was home.  It wasn't easy, mind you, but I could do it.  I could sleep on my side or my back. I could manage virtually everything.  

I wasn't allowed to carry anything over 10 pounds for some time.  That was difficult for me.  I'm not one who likes to sit still, so this tested my patience. I had to take my time to do everything for a while.  I didn't have an appetite, which wasn't all bad. I think I lost 10 pounds after the surgery.  Most of it (most) is still off.  

In all, I must say the lows weren't very low and the pain was short-lived. The first two weeks were the challenge.  Every week thereafter was easier and easier.  One month later, I returned to work a little tired, but no worse for wear. Two months later, I hardly feel any different than I did before. I have little scars and one larger scar than no one will ever see – even if I were to boldly wear a bikini (which I seriously doubt).  Four months later and I feel absolutely 100-percent back to my old self.  

I'm left, not with doubt and pain and scars, but with a wonderful sense that I did what was right. That I helped Susan live a better life. Heck, that kidney will help her just to live. How in the world can I regret that? I can't. I don't. I never will.

Donating created a sense of clarity in my life. I feel I understand what, and who is important. And I've walked away from those people who don't bring light into my life. My life is too short and precious for those things, for those people.

My greatest hope is that Susan will live a long, happy, healthy life. And if by some chance what I did with her inspires someone else to do the same thing, I will feel that I've done myself and my mother and my entire family proud.

What greater thing could I teach my children than to give? Than to share? Sometimes I wonder if they get it.

If not now, they will one day. And I know they will understand that sometimes making the hard decision is really the easy one.

And what about Susan Winkler? Get the details on her recovery and how a recipient of an organ donation does after surgery by visiting http://www.wcpo.com/dpp/news/local_news/recovering-from-a-life-changing-surgery-susans-story .

Get involved and find out information on how to give life by visiting: http://www.wcpo.com/dpp/news/local_news/learn-more-about-organ-donation .


curious what it's like to live with one kidney? Find out why you won't notice a thing at http://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/onekidney.cfm .

For other questions about donation, visit http://www.kidney.org/transplantation/livingdonors/infoqa.cfm .

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