Today marks 20 years since the doctors and nurses at Duke Medical Center wheeled my mom and I into the operating room to perform an operation that would change my life forever. I remember being so nervous, happy, excited, and praying the transplant would take. There was no guarantee that it would work, but there was a high chance that it would since my mom was a healthy living donor. She was not a perfect match; a perfect match is a pair of people who share six our of six antigens and these transplants have the best chance of working for a very long time. My mom and I share 3 antigens, so we’re basically a 50% match.
Antigens are markers found on many cells of the body that distinguish each individual as unique. These markers are inherited from our parents. Most perfect matches come from siblings, but my 3 siblings were all under the age of 18 at the time of my renal failure. My mom was going though a stressful divorce with my dad during this time, and she had just overcome high blood pressure and hyperthyroidism that she developed after having my sister at 45 years old. The doctors, after running months of testing, gave her the green light to be my donor. In addition to all of the medical testing and running me back and forth to doctors appointments, dialysis, and raising 3 other kids, she also figured out ways to help fund the mounting medical bills that were stacking up by doing creative things such as silent auctions and asking for church donations.
The procedure didn’t take long, I was in surgery about two and a half hours. My mom was in the operating room for less time than that. I came out with a diagonal cut on my lower abdomen, similar to where many women have a c-section incision. My mom has a small incision on her back. My two native kidneys stayed in place as they don’t take those out unless they’re infected, so I have three kidneys in my body, just two of them don’t work. Once I was on the post-op table the doctors and nurses were observing my pee bag to see if the kidney was working. I was told that I may still need dialysis if my body didn’t recognize the transplant right away and peeing was a good way to tell. Everyone in the room was so happy to see my full bag of pee, I was peeing like a racehorse! That was the first (and last) time I’d been congratulated on peeing since I was a potty training toddler.
Ever since that day I’ve thanked God for the medical procedure that allowed me to have a normal life. No one can predict how long my transplanted kidney will last, but in most studies 20 years is usually the cap. But I have no intentions of losing this gift my mom gave me any time soon, especially since my new lease on health allowed me to have two wonderful children who’ve never experienced their mom being sick. I don’t plan on that changing any time soon! I spent the first half of my life dealing with lupus and the second half building a life.
No one knows why I got lupus, no one that I know in my family has it although I’ve head from older people on both sides of my family that about two teenager girls who had a mysterious illness and died early. They weren’t testing us for lupus back then. Now, over 1.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with the disease, 90% of which are women. 80% of people develop lupus between the ages of 15 and 45 years of age. I was 14 when I developed symptoms. Lupus is 2 to 3 times more prevalent in people of color.
Live life everyday expecting something good to happen for each day is a gift for all of us. I can’t tell you how happy I am to have made it this far with my transplant, and I plan on being the oldest person to live with a donated kidney on record. I googled and found someone who’s had his transplant for 34 years and that seems to have been the longest time so far. I’m planning to exceed that, because in 14 more years my son will only be 15 and my daughter will only be 29 and I’ll still be young enough to do whatever I want to do!
Thank you for always reading and coming with me on my ever changing journey in this life. I’m still trying to figure it all out but being healthy makes every day worth living.
Check out my other posts about my story:
Wearing a green dress as green is the color of organ donation and wearing my mom’s vintage gucci bag.
Photos by Pablo Raya
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