A week ago today (May 25) I underwent a “donor nephrectomy,” which is to say that I donated my left kidney to someone with serious kidney disease through the Cleveland Clinic. I have been home since Thursday and am slowly recovering, every day feeling a little bit stronger.
The process began several months ago when I saw a Facebook post about a guy in the Detroit-area (we’ll call him Papa Phil) who was looking for a kidney. He had launched a campaign on social media and somehow it ended up on my FB feed. I still am not sure where I saw it because we don’t have any FB friends in common; I thought I saw it on a Cleveland Jewish FB Group but cannot find the post anywhere.
I sent a message to his son as directed by the post; he told me to contact the Kidney Donor Office at the Cleveland Clinic which I did. They asked me a few questions and sent me an on-line questionnaire…which I figured, given my medical history, would be the end of it. To my surprise, I was not disqualified right off the bat. After a subsequent phone call with a nurse in the Transplant Center, I still was not disqualified.
What we did find out, however, was that Papa Phil and I were not a match; our blood types are different. I had a choice: either I could walk away at this point, or I could stay in the process and be part of a swap; this means that a yet-to-be-determine John/Jane Doe who matched Papa Phil would give him a kidney, and my kidney would go to John/Jane’s intended recipient with whom they were not a match. I figured that once the kidney was out it did not really matter to me as long as Papa Phil would get a kidney when all was said and done.
Within 24 hours I got a call from the Cleveland Clinic and we were setting up times for me to go to the Main Campus for a full work-up (top to bottom, inside and out). During this time, I was intermittently in touch with Papa Phil’s son; we had a nice line of communication–not bad for a Buckeye fan and a Michigan fan!–but I understood well that Papa Phil probably had dozens of others who were already in process…and further ahead of me too. I decided that from here on in I would not contact the family; partially, I did not want to put a “jinx” on things, but I also did not want to allow myself or him and his family to get too excited by the progress when I knew that well over 100 people had already been disqualified or had backed out.
In mid-April, shortly after Passover I went in for my first day of testing. The day did not start well. First stop was the lab where I was to have a blood draw…30 tubes actually–which if they had told me in advance might have been the end of the whole thing! They got the blood but I nearly passed out. Luckily the rest of the day was easier. I came back a week later for the second round: a full day of meeting with doctors, surgeons, and others. It was the day of the all-important GFR test to determine my kidney function levels; in order to give away one kidney, there must be enough function in the remaining one to allow me to still be in the “normal” range. The hope was that after that second day of testing, they would be able to present my case to the transplant team that Friday. Due to a few tests that came back a little concerning (although ultimately not problematic), I had to do some follow-up tests; the coming week I had also been scheduled for a routine colonoscopy (unrelated to the kidney surgery) and the team wanted to wait for those results as well; everything got pushed back a week.
By this point, I was filled with a mix of emotions. On the one hand, I had gone through so much testing that I was hoping I would qualify to donate just so it would not have been a waste of time. I also know that Papa Phil had come very close to getting a kidney from a posthumous donation, but that had fallen through. I was really committed to this and wanted it to happen. On the other hand, no one was more shocked and surprised than me that I was still in the running. I reasoned that either they were really desperate for kidneys…or I was in much better shape than I thought.
The day of the Transplant Team’s meeting came and went and I heard nothing. I, of course, assumed that this was a “no,” and they just did not want to ruin my weekend. Saturday came and went with no notice on My Chart either. But the phone rang on Monday morning at 7:30 am with the news that I was qualified to donate. No one was more shocked and elated than I.
The next day I got a text from Papa Phil’s son simply stating that he had received an interesting call from the Cleveland Clinic. I responded with a text asking: “Will he be busy on May 25?” The phone rang and we shared our relief and joy together; it turns out that due to privacy laws they had no idea what my status was. They were not even sure it was me that had been qualified.
After that, things moved rather quickly. The same day I was told that surgery would be in 3 weeks, May 25–the day after my 58th birthday! We would be part of a three-way swap; within the span of a couple of days, three people would donate (including me) and three people would receive (including Papa Phil)–all of us part of a daisy chain of mismatches willing to match for others.
I won’t get into the details of all the preparation that needed to take place in 3 short weeks, but it was a mad dash for me to tell people who needed to know, arrange for substitutes for clients, and get legal stuff in order like a living will (signed at 4 pm the day before surgery!).
On May 23, I went with my wife down to Columbus to see my kids to celebrate my birthday a day early. My daughter baked an amazing cake, which luckily did not say “Farewell, Dad!”–although we did joke about it. On the way out of Cleveland, we stopped in to meet Papa Phil and his wife face-to-face. It was a short visit–maybe 15 minutes but I’ll remember it as long as I live. What an amazing feeling to make this connection.
You all know that I am a religious guy. I still cannot figure out how I saw this post on Facebook. I see so many requests for help on social media; why was I moved to act this time? That will be the subject of an upcoming blog post, but I definitely think there has been some divine intervention in this whole process. I have a few more thoughts on this subject, so stay tuned and thank you for sticking with this way-longer-than-usual post.
I am doing OK here, better every day. Best of all, Papa Phil is doing great!!! And we are both looking forward to the blessings that life ahead has to offer.