Saturday, December 29, 2007

Our PKD Story - Chapter 3: The Transplant

Unfortunately, but not completely unexpectedly, the pregnancy took its toll on the kidneys. Jeanne’s kidney function declined over the next couple of years and in early 1998, we found ourselves talking to a transplant coordinator about having a kidney transplant. We learned that there are two options. The first option is that one can be put on the waiting list for a kidney from a cadaver – where, unfortunately, the supply is not able to meet the demand. The other option is that one can receive a kidney donation from a live relative – but only if there is a sufficient match of blood type and six antigens. In most cases, a "live kidney" will last longer than one from a cadaver.

Thankfully, Jeanne was blessed to have three relatives step forward to be tested for possible donation – one sister and two aunts – and all three were deemed suitable enough matches. It was somehow decided (by the three of them and the doctors, not us) that her Aunt Susie would be the one donating a kidney to Jeanne. I hope there is a special place in heaven for her!

The kidney transplant was scheduled for May 26th, 1998 at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Jeanne and Susie were admitted to the hospital the day before, which happened to be Memorial Day. The day of the surgery was one of the longest I’ve ever experienced. First of all, the surgery was originally scheduled for 7 am, but she didn’t end up leaving her room until nearly 11am. Then, it was wait around all afternoon while the two of them underwent several hour surgeries. I tried my best to kill time by leaving the hospital for lunch, and then heading over to Our Lady’s Chapel at St. Patrick’s Cathedral (where we got married) for some prayer, and then just walking around the city for a while. Then, I headed back to the hospital, and waited, and paced, and waited, and paced.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Jeanne showed up back at the room around 7pm. The difference in her appearance coming out of surgery was dramatic – her face almost immediately had more color to it and I was amazed at how good she looked coming out of major surgery. Almost immediately, she had a heightened energy level.

Jeanne stayed in the hospital for ten days. Today, it is not unusual to be out in 3-5 days after a transplant, but ten years ago, the average stay was around 19 days. She might have been out a little earlier, but about day 6 or so, there seemed to be a little mix-up on the medicine front. You see, they have to play games with the dosage of the Neoral (immunosuppressive drug) to get it just right. Too much, and you have no immune system – too little and your body rejects the kidney. So, at one point, they apparently made a bad adjustment, and it took a couple of days to get the levels back to where they wanted.

Once Jeanne was back at home, Jeanne slowly began her recovery. We had to make twice a week follow-up visits at first (a 70 mile trip each way) and after being home for about a week or so, Jeanne had to make a middle-of-the-night visit to the ER (again back in NYC) after finding some blood in her urine. Thankfully, that turned out to be nothing of any consequence. Gradually, things settled back to “normal” (whatever that is around here). It was certainly good to see Jeanne’s energy back.

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