The email had a surprisingly mundane subject line: “Last pre-op appointment.” It was in my inbox for several hours before I opened it; I thought it was one more kidney transplant revision that I desperately needed. In fact, it contained dates of appointments and tests. But also, very close to the bottom, as if we had almost forgotten it, this sentence: “Your kidney transplant will take place on Thursday, June 13, 2019.” I had to read the line several times before I understood what it meant: my cousin Christine was really going to risk her life to save mine.
In January 2018, at the age of 37, I started experiencing immense tiredness and severe itching, as well as being cold all the time. I put it down to winter drying my skin and overwork, and it was two months before I got my blood pressure checked at the grocery store. The terrifyingly high result prompted me to make an appointment with my doctor.
He ordered some tests for me and I went about my business. I’m a reporter for CityNews Toronto, and it was in the car, on the way to an interview, that I found out about the diagnosis: severe kidney failure. Following my doctor’s advice, I immediately went to the emergency room.
I couldn’t believe it, even though kidney disease runs in my family; my father had been on dialysis for four years prior to his kidney transplant and had died at the age of 50 from a complication of his disease. He had given me a rare kidney disease, Alport syndrome, but I had been followed up regularly until the age of 18 and the doctors had concluded that he would not have any problems. Most affected women are carriers who do not experience symptoms. It was supposed to be my case.
Find Mike Cohen’s moving testimony about the organ donation that saved his life.
my mother is a volunteer
My mother immediately made arrangements to donate one of her kidneys to me, but to be considered she first had to lose more than 40 pounds.
While she was on the treadmill, my kidney doctor and his team were trying to avoid total failure. He was frank, while remaining optimistic.
Dialysis would be needed, and since my kidney failure was end-stage, I was almost certainly sterile: I couldn’t have a child until I had a transplant. If he didn’t get any, he would die.
Many doctors would have sent me straight to surgery for a dialysis catheter, but mine thought I could do without it with the right combination of vitamins, medications, and dietary changes, as long as the transplant didn’t. wait too long.
Three days later, I left the hospital, where I nonetheless returned for countless appointments and blood tests. I also did the tests prior to a transplant: ultrasound, cardiovascular and even vascular tests to see if I would tolerate hemodialysis (which consists of extracting the blood to purify it before reinjecting it into the patient).
My diet has changed drastically. No more Diet Coke, pickles, and cheese—my body couldn’t filter out all that phosphorus and sodium anymore. I had to stick to less than 1.5 liters of fluids a day, so I chewed gum to quench my thirst. I also had to swallow a lot of pills (vitamins, minerals, medications) and have injections every week to raise my hemoglobin level.
Despite five months of this diet, my kidney function deteriorated further and my symptoms worsened. Restless legs syndrome was depriving me of sleep. I was so tired that some days I couldn’t even get out of bed. Seemingly easy tasks, like putting clean clothes away, became overwhelming. My mother’s organ donation request was still under consideration, but I didn’t have much time left. In August 2018, a catheter was inserted into my stomach. In September, she was doing peritoneal dialysis every night at home to remove what my kidneys should have filtered out. Then I was stuck on the dialysis machine for 9 or 10 hours.
In the meantime, my mother had lost weight, but her application was eventually denied due to loss of kidney function due to aging. I was put on the waiting list for a post-mortem donation. However, I was warned that due to my blood type, I would probably only be called in seven years, if I was still alive.
That’s when Christine took over.
The kidney is one of the organs your body can do without!
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