Six Months Ago…Kidney Transplant Update

Six months ago there was a knife.

Six months ago yesterday I was being wheeled into a surgical room and went under the knife voluntarily…as a kidney donor for a living donor transplant for a ten year-old girl. Two months prior to that I had no idea that was going to happen.

I received a text message yesterday with an emphatic “Happy 6-month-aversary!” from the little girl’s parents giving details on how well she is doing since she received her new part. Her labs are fantastic, she’s grown 2 1/2 inches in six months, she’s almost off all but two lifetime medications and her body’s not making any antigens (meaning there is absolutely no sign of rejection) and the little stinker just went river rafting last week. She’s doing absolutely fabulous. I lovingly joke that the kidney was always hers to begin with–I was just babysitting it for her. *wink* Yes, we were a match made in heaven.

I can’t believe it’s been six months since the kidney transplant. It feels like ages ago and almost a dream. The three fading scars on my stomach are pretty much the only reminders that it actually happened. I pulled out the box and was looking back at all the cards, notes and kind text messages of all those supporting the surprise decision to be a kidney donor and I laugh at the pictures of the kidney party thrown just days before the scheduled surgery with all the lovely attendees and supporters in scrubs and masks eating kidney shaped cookies.

I blink in disbelief on how it all happened. One minute I was having coffee and the next minute (or actually more like a very short two months later) all the tests were completed, the matches made, waivers signed and I was in a surgical gown praying healing and steady hands for all involved. It was an easy decision. That kidney was never mine to begin with.

How did this happen?
The backstory.

We all have the “you-go-first” mentality when something is scary. After finding out that the mom of a family friend of this little girl got the devastating news that she could not be her daughter’s kidney donor as originally planned, I sat in disbelief over a cup of coffee as the grandfather updated me on their family situation. I asked all the questions anyone would ask. What now? How do you get on the national registry? How long does that take? How do they find a match? What are you going to do? What happens now?

No one knew.

There was a tug. There was that little heart tug to do something. When those happen it is important to pay attention.

The heart tug I felt was to help make it not scary for their other family members to go get screened. That’s it. That’s how the door opened.

I joke around all the time that I live in awkward. It’s true, I have a knack for finding awkward and having to learn how to live in it. I’ve also been given an ability to normalize the weird. In some moments it can get me in trouble, but on rare occasions it’s been put it to good use. In that moment I asked this little girl’s grandpa for the name of the clinic to go draw blood and extended an offer to help make it not scary for her other family members to go get tested. After all, the chances of a non-relative being a donor match is slim to none, but perhaps my role in all this was to help raise awareness for this little girl’s need.  We all know how I can talk and tell a story—so it was time to start talking and rally the troops for this little ten-year-old!

All it takes is one yes.

Turns out that of the five family members tested and screened, none of them would be a candidate to make it through the full screening process to be a living kidney donor. Every single eligible adult in that family unit was disqualified for one reason or another. Little did I know, the path for organ donation is a very narrow one.

Guess who is still walking that path?

In an incredible story that only our Creator can write and that has more God-winks than I can begin to explain, it turned out that this adorable little girl and I were a match made in heaven. Not only have I been given the gift of health and flew through the intense medical screening process, but it turned out that my HLA markers were a match! It’s official, our families have been woven together through a kidney transplant surgery this last December.  This little girl is now officially a “leftie!”

Kidney transplant delivery
My kidney going for the most important ride of its life

Meet Katie.

This adorable 10-year-old little girl taught me how to play the card game Skip-bo during one of her dialysis sessions I had the opportunity to attend. When I went to visit her at Children’s Hospital in Denver, she showed me the port in her chest, talked to me about her pills, explained how she’s  already missed two parties at school, and how she missed being able to play with her friends. This little girl has taught me the power of perseverance and trust as she battled four-hour long dialysis sessions three times a week and was waiting for God to give her a match for a new kidney. The average time a person spends on the national donor list is six years (two years for children). By the time Katie got her new part, she was on dialysis just over 10 weeks. God is the Redeemer of time and He can put anything in fast forward. God is writing this story and He is the One who has made an unlikely pair connect through a random set of circumstances and a cup of coffee that no one saw coming. Doctors on both transplant teams keep scratching their heads in disbelief.

Katie’s family and I just keep smiling.

As with any good story, there are a lot of question marks, logistical unknowns, and twists and turns, but I have been amazed at how life’s great Author has intertwined both our lives with this unexpected plot twist. He’s not done with Katie’s story and He’s not done with mine either.

A long time ago He whispered to my heart and warned me that He and I were going for a ride. “Girl, I got this. I’m going to pull the rug out from under you, but I got this.” And what a ride it’s been. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been put on a shelf and forgotten as I watch everyone else enjoy the beautiful milestones of life. I’ve definitely had my fair share of pity parties and have messed up more times than I’d like to count. It is in these times that I have to remind myself who my God is, that He is BIG, that He has perfect timing and that He is loving me and that He is on my side as He writes my story and asks me to walk out the tough stuff.

There is a strength that is built in walking through the unknowns and a beauty that comes in the brokenness. I know, because I can see it in Katie and I can see it in her family.  

Years ago I randomly put “save a life” on my 30×30 bucket list. Writing with a shrug, I honestly thought maybe this might be in the form of a 9-1-1 call or alerting a lifeguard at a pool of a struggling swimmer one day. Little did I know the gift God would give me through this one little bucket list item.

Cheers to a cup of coffee and an awkward yes…you never know where it may take you.

a painting she painted
This is the painting Katie made that sat by my bedside after the surgery.

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