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December 20, 2012

One living kidney donor shares her story

Jane Thomas, a living kidney donor and Lung Transplant coordinator at Loyola.
Jane Thomas, a living kidney donor and Lung Transplant coordinator at Loyola.

Maybe you’ve been considering a living organ donation.  Those of us who have already gone through the process are more than happy to talk to others who are interested in doing the same.

I started the process by attending a town hall meeting here at Loyola.  It is important to understand the process, including the risks involved.  Be prepared emotionally, there is a possibility that the donation may not be successful.  Be prepared physically, much testing will be completed to ensure you are healthy and able to withstand major surgery.  Consider your finances, have adequate PTO time for testing, surgery and recovery.  Be driven.

The cost of testing and surgery is covered by your recipient’s insurance.  Your insurance carrier should not receive any of the bills. If it does, contact the financial coordinator and the issue will be straightened out.  I had more than adequate sick time to cover my time off.  If you don’t have enough sick time and if donating could cause financial hardship, then the Heal with Love Foundation may be able to help.

Recovery time is different for everyone.  I went back to work 2 weeks after surgery, which is about average. The shortest recovery I am aware of was 5 days, the longest was 6 weeks.  I have a sedentary job. If your job is very physical, you will need a longer recovery time.  The pain was manageable.  I have four very tiny, barely visible scars on the left side of my abdomen and one larger scar very low on my abdomen below the “bikini line,” similar to a woman’s scar when they’ve had a C-section during childbirth.  I donated 1 year ago and I feel well.

Sharing the gift of good health

Why give a stranger a kidney?  I say why not?  I am lucky enough to have been given the gift of good health.  That combined with my own life experiences led to my desire to donate.

My first job in nursing was on the nephrology unit at St. Francis Hospital in Peoria, Ill.  I saw firsthand the struggles that end-stage renal disease brings.  I then spent about 5 years working in a chronic dialysis unit and another 3 years as an acute dialysis nurse.

As I began my nursing career, my aunt began her own struggles with end-stage renal disease.  She was a Type I diabetic whose kidneys failed in her late 30s.  She spent several years on dialysis and was lucky enough to receive a kidney transplant at age 47, giving her 4 years of life without dialysis.  My cousin, who was just 17 at the time my aunt received her transplant, cherishes the extra time and memories the transplant gave them.  Unfortunately, when my aunt’s transplant failed, she refused to go back to life on dialysis and passed away at age 51.

A big part of my decision to donate a kidney was to spare another family the untimely loss of a loved one.  I wanted to make a difference in another person’s life.

I’m proud to be the mother of three awesome children who are now adults making their own way in life. I’m also on a tight budget with most of my earnings going to various state colleges.  So, my ability to donate money to various causes is limited.  My talent seems to be caring for others.  I feel blessed and sharing my good fortune only makes me feel even more blessed.

My recipient waited 9 years for a kidney. He’s a young man, he’s someone’s son, he’s a husband, he’s a father of four, he’s a brother and an uncle with one fine nephew who “Paid it Forward” and donated a kidney the day after I did.

A Pay-It-Forward kidney chain begins when an altruistic donor’s kidney is given to a compatible transplant candidate who has a willing but incompatible donor. The incompatible donor could be a friend, acquaintance or family member who then agrees to give a kidney to a third person with an incompatible donor, and so on. Potentially, a kidney transplant chain can go on forever. But a chain typically ends with a kidney patient who is extremely difficult to match.

The kidney of my recipient’s nephew went to someone at Cornell University. Our chain resulted in seven successful kidney transplants.

Jane Thomas, BSN, RN, Lung Transplant Coordinator
Loyola University Health System

"Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile."  -- Albert Einstein

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