June 27, 2017

My Version of Living Kidney Donor Testing

Originally posted on June 17, 2013

 have wanted to post for two weeks and keep running out of hours during the day. How does time pass so quickly? Maybe I'm just moving at a slower pace these days.

Many people have asked what is involved with being tested for living organ donation. I can only speak to kidney donation, but I imagine there are some standard tests that apply to all organs.

If you are considering donating an organ to a family member, friend, or through a paired matching program, I highly recommend starting with prayer. Yes, prayer. Consider this your test prep and hand the thought over to God who will guide you to a sound decision.

I will be honest, I wasn't instantly sure that I wanted to donate. I did instantly want to be tested to know if it was an option and asked God to lead me to the right decision. Also, Mom didn't instantly want me to do it. I asked Brad, and he was good to go from the beginning. 

Last fall, Dr. Kellum, Mom's nephrologist, told her the time had come; she definitely needed to be on the transplant list. Her creatinine levels were not reducing and on a slow, yet steady, rate of increasing. As big of a pill as this was to swallow, we were grateful for making it seven years since the last time we had this discussion.

First, we had to make sure Mom was approved and placed on the active list. She and I went for her evaluation this past January, then Brad I went for my donor evaluation in February. We did all this during the final push to finish the house. "Load My Plate Up, Please & Thank You!" should be my motto.

Before the actual evaluation at UAB, I was required to have my blood pressure taken for 10 consecutive days. UAB recommended going to the nearest fire station. So, off I went to the station closest to my office. First, I parked in front of the fire truck garage. Thankfully, I realized this before getting out of the car. Couldn't you just see there being a fire, my car blocking the truck causing delay. Brilliant. Next, I clicked around the building in heels looking for the main entrance never to find it. A brawny fireman was outside doing something to his car. Me: Hi, my name is Christie Berry. I am being evaluated as a kidney transplant donor and need my blood pressure taken. Fireman: *Facial expression of what did she just say?* Ok, come inside.

We walked in the fire station filled with two rows of recliners, dimly lit and an action movie on the biggest TV you've ever seen. I think we were all looking at each other like "What is this?...." Again, I state my name and purpose. The official blood pressure taking fireman of the group took my blood pressure while I explained I needed to come back every day for the next week. I must have been their first potential kidney donor, because they were not familiar with this arrangement. As I left, I exclaimed "Bye!" and reminded them I would "See y'all tomorrow." When I got in my car, I called my mom and reminded her how much I love her to go through that. It was so awkward and hysterical at the same time! Speaking of the fireman, I need to take them some cupcakes and let them know how grateful I am for the role they played in this renalvation.

Ok, the actual testing -
The evaluation included a 24-hour urine sample (I had a custom travel container thanks to my pal Abby!); lots of blood drawn (I'm pretty sure I counted 19 tubes.); chest and torso x-rays; abdominal CT scans (Whoa, that die is serious business and so weird!); EKG; educational classroom session and a grand finale of individual interviews with a nephrologist, psychologist, social worker, donor coordinator, surgery assistant and surgeon.

That's it! That's all it takes to be tested as a living kidney donor - a lot of prayer, 10 days of blood pressure readings, and a day at UAB or another transplant center.

When and How It All Started

Originally posted on June 4, 3013, on Renovations.blogspot.com

The short answer is we don’t know for sure. 
I do know two things. It scared the daylights out of me, and God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. 

In July 2006, Brad and I were getting settled in Memphis. I just started my cool new event planning career. Things were going great for us.

My mom was having one of the worst times of her life. In the fall of 2005, Mom stepped off a set of stairs, fell and broke her leg. Due to the extended recovery, she lost her job; thus, lost her insurance. In this ironic government system we have, she did not qualify for medical assistance because she didn’t have a dependent to claim – Don’t get me started….I could go down a different road all together here. We applied for her Social Security Disability only to be denied. It was a tough time.

Ok, back to 2006. 
As usual, I called Mom as I drove home from work. She seemed a little different, almost distant, but I didn’t think too much about it. Same routine next evening, I called. There was definitely something different – wrong – with her today. She couldn’t complete her thoughts; slurred her speech; and was basically out of it. I have a vivid memory of where I was at the very moment it hit me. I was driving down Union Avenue in front of Methodist University Hospital and experienced one of those everything goes silent – world stops moving around you moments. I was certain she had suffered a stroke.

I called Brad (he was traveling that week), packed clothes, scooped up Chi Chi, dropped off some files at a co-workers house and hit the road to Corinth. I needed windshield wipers for my eyes! Thanks to God, Brad, Haley and Abby for talking me through that hour and a half drive. When I opened the front door and saw my mom slumped on the couch with a drawn face drawn wild eyes, I wanted to run and hide. Instead, God gave me strength. I looked at her for a few seconds, took a deep breath and quickly grew up more than a 27 year old should have to with regard to caring for a parent.

We got to the emergency room, Mom asked why there were so many of me in the room (whoa – what?) and we waited on tests. Haley’s mom Myra rushed to the hospital to be with us. The doctor confirmed Mom did not have a stroke. Instead, she was severely anemic with less than half the amount of red blood cells needed for her body to function properly.

After a blood transfusion and a couple days in the hospital, Dr. Stephen Besh, Hematologist with The West Clinic, and Dr. Kenneth Kellum, a Nephrologist with Nephrology & Hypertension Associates, were close to a diagnosis. They believed something was wrong with her kidneys. Kidneys...huh? I was so confused. How could the kidneys cause her not to have enough blood? Was there internal bleeding in the kidneys? First of all, I didn’t love biology in school. Secondly, Mom was still kind of out of it, and I was in a fog. I needed the dots connected in a simple-minded kind of way.
Here’s your educational lesson: Kidneys produce erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone that regulates red blood cell production. Diseased kidneys may not produce enough EPO. Less EPO results in fewer red blood cells and their protein hemoglobin to deliver oxygen to the body's organs. Without sufficient red blood cells, the body doesn’t get the right amount of oxygen, resulting in anemia. (Reference and for more information about anemia and kidney disease: Author Unknown. (Date of publication unknown). Handouts: Anemia & Kidney Disease. Retrieved from http://anemia.org/patients/information-handouts/kidney-disease/)

A couple of months later, a biopsy confirmed Mom’s kidneys were only functioning at approximately 15%. The day Dr. Kellum provided the biopsy results is the day we learned a kidney transplant was inevitable. (Another one of those everything goes silent – world stops moving around you moments.) Actually, he almost recommended we begin the process immediately but changed his mind and prescribed a Prednisone treatment plan. This time, she and I gathered ourselves together, and God gave us strength. We were shocked but just began praying for God to take her through life as long as possible without needing dialysis or a transplant. God has answered those prayers for seven years. 

Now, our prayers have evolved. We pray for God to guide the UAB kidney transplant team in performing a miracle for Mom and two other people. We pray for God to give six of us the physical strength to heal, emotional strength to be positive and graceful. We pray for God to bless our caretakers as they help us recover, give them patience. We pray that the new when will be 2013 when three transplanted kidneys started functioning properly, and how will be because of God’s grace and very sophisticated medicine. We pray for all this and much more. Please pray with us.

August 29, 2013

Originally posted May 24, 2013, on Renalvations.blogspot.com

Praise God; it's confirmed! 
On August 29, 2013, my mom, Dianne, will receive a kidney from an earthly angel. No, not me....I'm flattered you thought of me first (I literally cracked myself up typing that.). However, I will be donating one of my kidneys to someone else that same day. Are you confused yet?

A handful of our family and friends are aware, but there are many that still don't know until now. We wanted to make sure everything was confirmed before putting too much out there. Also, this date, antibodies, or something else could change between now and then.

Here are the highlights:
  • Mom was evaluated as a kidney transplant recipient at University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in January and passed with flying colors - Go D! 
  • I was evaluated in February and also got the green light. - Go me!
  • Surgery is scheduled for August 29, 2013, at UAB.
  • *Drum Roll* There are SIX people (3 donors & 3 recipients) involved in the transplant!! Yes, six of us will be in surgery swapping kidneys at the same time. God's master plan and medicine at its finest!
Shew, we are glad to finally share with everyone. I hope this is just enough info to stir up questions and intrigue you to follow our journey of this Renalvation (btw - original term coined by one of my best friends, Lessslie). We will use the blog to provide details of the highlights above, hopefully educate you as we educate ourselves, and keep you updated on the progress.

Please pray for all of us, post questions and read the blog! I promise to work hard and avoid a second failed blog - poor Berry Patch.....no judgement, please.

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