Transplant Day

Today is the day which will live in very much the opposite of infamy for me and my family. Today, my husband got a new kidney. 

The journey my husband and I have experienced since October 2 is a crazy one. It’s full of life lessons, some hard ones, some emotional, and a couple touching.

First the hard lesson. And this is important, as I run a fitness program. Just because you are in excellent shape and aren’t feeling sick, doesn’t mean you don’t need to see a doctor. If you are on the fence over whether or not you need healthcare, let me be your gentle push. You do.

Chris and I were perfectly healthy and fit individuals. We work out 5 times a week, we practice Eating Green, and we practice the other cornerstone, Experiencing Nature. No one in their right mind would ever suspect one of us had a debilitating problem which would require constant medical care, and a transplant. Especially, between the two of us, Chris. I am the ex-smoker, the stressed-out one, the one with some history I don’t even want to discuss right here. But it was Chris who was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease.

We were insanely lucky. Actually, let’s make this story just a hair longer. We were insanely lucky that I have crappy knees. Because of my crappy knees acting up, we decided to get insurance and spend all our money getting them fixed. But while we had insurance, let’s also have the doctors check Chris out for his migraines.

Those migraines were a result to high blood pressure, dangerously high blood pressure, which was a result of Chris’ kidneys failing. I don’t want to think what would have happened if we didn’t get that insurance and Chris went to the doctor for his headaches without insurance.

But we are HEALTHY! How did this happen? Life lesson number one- fit does not necessarily equal well. Even if you are in the best shape of your life, please still get a regular check-up. Here’s the worst that will happen: you will be the highlight of your doctor’s day each year you go to see them. They will love seeing you because you are the picture perfect of health, and that will boost your self-esteem, and keep you motivated to stay the course for your fitness program.

So, we dodged a huge bullet getting insurance. But Chris was in dire straits. His kidneys were functioning only at 12%. That is insanely low. Most patients with CKD need dialysis when their functionality hits below 15-20%. So why were we okay without it? This is where your fitness truly pays off. While we are still sort of scratching our heads on the whole HOW this happened, we do know thing- our healthy lifestyle has kept Chris in a functioning state until we were able to get a donor. So, while fitness can’t prevent every illness or ailment, it CAN make it easier to treat, and improve your quality of life.

When I announced Chris needed a kidney, I received several messages from people wanting to help, but not able to donate. I signed up to donate mine, but I was told I was not a preferred donor, as the team wanted me to be his primary caregiver after the transplant, and later. But we didn’t hear about anyone going through the process, and I realized it’s because the procedure is scary as hell. No one in their right mind would want to willingly go through the process of donating a kidney.

But I was wrong. One quiet soul had registered to donate a kidney without even telling us. We didn’t even know there was a donor until we were messaged and informed she had completed her testing, and they were waiting to see if she was a good match, and healthy enough to donate her kidney.

When everything went through, Chris and I couldn’t believe it. In less than nine months since discovering his condition, we had a donor for a new kidney. And then our transplant was scheduled. It was really happening.

I remember asking my friend if she knew what she was getting into. She smiled and said she really wanted to help, and had contemplated donating a kidney but always preferred it be someone she knew. This was her chance to help someone she cared about.

Her generosity blows me away. The procedure is not an easy one. It’s safe, as the team performing both surgeries do over a hundred each year, but it doesn’t make it easier to have someone slice you open, even just a little, and remove a part of your body. Chris doesn’t have a choice in the matter. He needs a new kidney. He has to have this transplant. But our friend? She didn’t have to do it. And yet, she did.

I am not a highly emotional person. I don’t generally cry during sappy movies (except Coco, but most Pixar movies hit me in the feels). I didn’t get emotional when the elephants left the zoo. Or when I left the zoo. And for most of the process of doctor appointments, preparing for today, and even comforting Chris when he was upset over things, I kept my composure. And I kept it most of today too.

But when my friend was out of surgery and back in her room, I went up to see her. Her family was there. They were talking quietly, but she was still very much out of it. She turned to look at me and actually smiled. She smiled. Even through all her pain. She smiled. And I lost it. This woman is a fucking superhero. What she did for me and Chris is unbelievable.

My last life lesson I will share with you- if you are able to, please, sign up to be an organ donor. If you want to make a real difference in the life of someone, be a hero who saves someone’s life, or quality of life.

When my sister died, we donated as many organs as possible. It wasn’t much because she died in a car accident, but I remember her eyes were donated to a blind person. And now that person can see. It may not seem significant, but I promise it made a difference in that person’s life.

When all this is said and done, I am considering donating my kidney straight up to whoever possibly needs one. I’m wondering if I want to meet and get to know the recipient, or if I should stay anonymous, or if I should wait if someone I know needs one. But I’m going to do it. In a pay-it-forward type of fashion.

Today, my life changed. My donor is a silly friend, who named her kidney Arnold. As she explained, she has a sock monkey doll named Ethyl with a teddy bear named Arnold. I don’t know why she named the teddy bear of a sock monkey, but she does. When the surgeon explained how they remove the kidney, she exclaimed, “oh, like when I remove Ethyl’s sweater and I have to slip Arnold through the hole!” And then they named her kidney after a sock monkey’s teddy bear.

I like to think Arnold is named after the Terminator. Not in the sense of this kidney is going to terminate Chris, but after the actor. I just watched a video of Arnold working out outdoors (doing a rather ZooFit-ish style of exercise, I might add). This man is over seventy years old, had heart surgery, and is still kicking, and looking DAMN good while doing it. He is a true inspiration, and I think Arnold is a perfect name for something inspiring us to continue on our road to health, fitness, and a good quality of life.

Welcome to the family, Arnold.

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