Laurie and Stan Rosen
The Special Gift- A Living Donor Transplant
When I first learned that my husband Stan had end-stage renal disease (ESRD), I was very frightened and felt helpless. He had diabetes for many years, yet it was still difficult to face this illness. Rather than continue to feel helpless, I tried to learn more about kidney function and ESRD. I accompanied Stan when he had appointments with various specialists whenever possible and actively participated by asking questions. And even though I was a beginner using the Internet, I was able to gather considerable information about kidney disease and the available types of treatment.
Together Stan and I discussed the treatment options, which included either dialysis or a kidney transplant. We visited a dialysis center and several hospitals with transplant departments. He dreaded the prospect of dialysis and the restrictive diet and lifestyle changes involved. His goal was to avoid dialysis as long as possible and I supported him in that. After much discussion, my husband decided that a kidney transplant was the treatment of choice. It was during my second meeting with my husband at his nephrologist’s office that I was informed that occasionally a spouse or even a friend could be a compatible kidney donor. At the same time, I was told that a new technique for the removal of a donor kidney, involving laparoscopic surgery, was available. It was easy for me to decide at that moment that I would be tested to find out if I would be a suitable donor.
At first, Stan was opposed to the idea of my being tested. He was afraid to get his hopes up, knowing the odds were against us being a good enough match. An even bigger concern for him was that I would be hurt if I gave up one of my kidneys. I recognized that my husband’s resistance to my donating a kidney was also due in part to his being depressed. Many people with ESRD and other chronic illnesses suffer from depression and feel that they shouldn’t bother to try, that things won’t work out. It was difficult for him to make a major life decision while he was depressed.
After a while, Stan got used to the idea that I would be tested. He selected a hospital, Mount Sinai in New York, with a large transplant department whose transplant surgeon had performed more than one thousand kidney transplants. We were tested together on the same day. Against all odds, we were a match! I felt amazed, ecstatic and relieved hearing the news. The person who gave me the results was so matter-of-fact about it that I was uncertain whether I had really heard her correctly.
I was very excited when I told Stan that we were a match. By this time, he had educated himself about the laparoscopic procedure, which is less invasive for the donor than the conventional method of removing a donor kidney and involves a shorter hospital stay and faster recovery. He had experienced laparoscopic surgery first hand when he had his gall bladder removed.
As we made plans for the transplant it really seemed like a miracle. I would be giving my husband a part of myself that would improve the quality of his life. He would not have to undergo dialysis or to remain on a waiting list to receive a transplant. You might think that this was an act of great courage or sacrifice. It was neither. I truly was not afraid to lose a kidney because I was really not losing it. I was giving it to my husband., and by helping him to lead a fuller life, I would benefit too.
Because this was a planned operation, we had time to prepare ourselves. We received a lot of emotional support from family, friends, and co-workers. It helps to know that people care about you when you’re going through a major operation.
The night before the transplant we went to a movie and wandered into a cozy little restaurant a few blocks away from the hospital, where we had a light but delicious dinner. We stayed overnight in the city where the hospital was located so we wouldn’t be worried about traffic or snow the day of the surgery.
Since the transplant, Stan’s new kidney is functioning well. My one remaining kidney is providing the same function that the two kidneys had, and I feel no different physically than I did before the operation. I stayed in the hospital for three days and was able to walk slowly a few hours after the surgery and used a city bus on the fifth day to go shopping and sight-seeing. I drove my car on the sixth day and returned to work two weeks after the operation.
It’s my hope that the availability of kidney donation by laparoscopic surgery will make it possible for many more people to become living donors and help reduce the number of people on waiting lists for kidney transplants.
Laurie S. Rosen, M.S.W., is a psychoanalyst and clinical social worker in Commack, N.Y.