Compelled to Share - Why I Donated
Taylor de Laveaga still doesn’t completely understand what led her to donation. But when confronted with the realities of those needing a living donor, she started the process and didn’t look back.
When I filled out the National Kidney Registry questionnaire a year ago, I could not tell you exactly what prompted me to register as a living donor. I did not see a post on social media asking for a miracle; I am lucky enough not to know anyone in imminent need of a kidney. Up until last week, as I was wheeled into surgery, I still found myself struggling to put my determination into words. And now, writing this having recently joined the one-kidney club, I still don’t have a satisfactorily complete explanation.
What I do know is that the decision was, for me, a pretty straightforward one:
More than 100,000 people are awaiting organ transplants in the United States. Every day, 17 people die waiting for an organ that never comes. The vast majority of those people need a kidney. Life on the waiting list is, I gather, very difficult: a quarter of people die within a year of starting dialysis; without a transplant, most people die within five.
Human bodies, meanwhile, are very neat and incredible, and only need one kidney to live a completely normal, full, healthy life. I am lucky enough to be a healthy person with (until recently) two healthy kidneys–one of which I apparently didn’t even really need. Donation is major surgery, of course, but it is relatively common and incredibly safe. Less than 2% of donors have any complications and have to be rehospitalized for additional care. Over the long-term, donors have health and medical outcomes as good as (or better than) average.
In other words: I had an extra, and it was not, in all, too much trouble to give it away. Why should I have to miss out on all the fun just because I didn’t know anyone personally who needs it, when there are tens of thousands of people who do?
So I filled out the forms, attesting that I understand there are risks to surgery and that I was doing this of my own accord. I got my bloodwork done and peed in many kinds of cups and containers and jugs. I met with doctors, nurses, specialists, social workers, and my surgical team. I spent a day undergoing a battery of tests (an EKG, a CT scan, an MRI, another chance to pee in a cup) to make sure my team was 100% sure that I was healthy enough to donate. Once I got the green light, we set a date, I consented about 50 more times (you have the absolute right to change your mind up until the moment the anesthesia kicks in), and, finally, I checked myself into the hospital for a long, productive nap.
I am, frankly, terrified of writing so publicly about something so personal. (I did not share my plan with very many people – some of my family members learned I had chosen to do this just days before my surgery). But talking to others and hearing their stories was what helped me most in solidifying my decision (and explaining my choice to my loved ones/convincing them that I was clinically sane).
I also feel compelled to share because I – and maybe you – had no idea that I could have such an outsized impact on someone else’s life by doing something so relatively easy.
Even after being rehospitalized and needing a second, minor surgery (turns out that gas can be a medical emergency–who knew!) the effect on my life has been–and will continue to be–shockingly small, all told. I was up and walking within hours of my surgery. I spent a few days in the hospital with some pain and discomfort around my small laparoscopic incisions. I felt sore, like I’d just completed a marathon ab workout. In the days since my surgery, that soreness has continued to fade, as has the fatigue (and the gas, don’t you worry). I have to be careful not to lift anything too heavy for a few weeks, and not bend or twist too much as the incisions heal over the next month or so. Going forward, I will take Tylenol instead of Advil to comply with the restriction against using NSAIDs.
Other than that, I expect my life to go back to normal pretty quickly. To be extra cautious, my team will continue to monitor my remaining kidney. It, meanwhile, will continue to grow in size and capacity to make up for the loss of function by virtue of the removal of the other (again: cool). I expect to be back to my job as a public defender in a couple of weeks; back to running and exercise a few weeks after that; and fully back to my previous life and activities in a matter of months.
I could not be happier with my decision. I could not feel more lucky to be healthy enough to donate, and to have the support system to take care of me for a few days while I bounce back. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
My thanks to NKDO, my donor mentor, and the incredible teams at Penn Medicine.