Living kidney donor: ‘So should you donate a kidney? You should at least consider it.’

Susan
On Sept. 22, 2017, Susan Duncan found herself on the front page of Kamloops This Week, along with Lloyd Garner to whom she had given a kidney.

Susan Duncan has been a friend for more than 20 years. She was the editor at the Kamloops Daily News who hired me as sports editor in 2000. I loved working for and with her because there weren’t any mind games, and she never held a grudge — at least, I don’t think she did. We had our disagreements — I can recall one shouting match in the middle of the newsroom — but when they were over they were over.

Susan left The Daily News for a positoin as Communications Officer with Interior Health in February 2011, no doubt using her female intuition to flee the sinking ship before many of us realized it was taking on water. But she was there when my wife, Dorothy, started doing peritoneal dialysis, and Susan always offered great support.

Little did I know at the time that Susan would end up as part of our kidney family. In 2017, organizers of the annual Kidney Walk in Kamloops selected her as the event’s honouree.

What follows arrived via email on Monday. It is Susan’s story . . . in her words.


I donated a kidney in July 2016. I generally avoid talking about it because people then tell me how brave I was and so on. It’s embarrassing and also a huge exaggeration of my decision.

As well, I worry about encouraging someone else to donate. I don’t want the burden of guilt I will feel if someone does decide to donate a kidney and then has an unhappy experience.

But as I read the appeals by my former colleague Gregg Drinnan on behalf of desperate people searching for live kidney donors, I feel a sense of responsibility to share what it means to be an organ donor.

I realize that the time has come for me to be brave. The chances of having a bad experience are slim and there are so many sick people who need others to step up.

So here is my story. I hope one or some of you will make it yours.

I donated my left kidney four years ago and I haven’t missed it since. There was no side effect from the surgery, my blood pressure has remained low and my kidney function is normal. One healthy kidney is all this old body ever needed and, various factors aside, it’s probably all yours needs, too.

It was a bit of a fluke that I ended up being a donor. I knew the man’s wife vaguely through work and that she and her husband had three young children. I met her one day in the elevator at work and she told me she was at the hospital because her husband was there for dialysis.

He got sick suddenly in February and a few months later he was spending four hours a day, three days a week in the renal unit at Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. They also lived two hours out of town so you can imagine what that was doing to their family life.

She introduced me to him and I warmed immediately to his big friendly smile. We chatted briefly about his illness, then we said goodbye. As I walked away, he called out, “Hey, if you know anyone with A positive blood type . . .”

I looked back and said, “I’m A positive . . . maybe I should get tested.” That night I researched live kidney donation and discovered that a person only needs one healthy kidney to live a full life.

The paperwork began, followed by a myriad of tests, including psychological. It turns out it doesn’t take much to be a match for a kidney donation.

At age 59, tests showed that I, an atheist mother of three grown children and two stepchildren, was a match for a 50-year-old man of deep Christian faith and father of three small children.

I went into hospital on a Monday morning and was out of surgery by noon. My husband was barely on the ninth tee when he got the call that all went well.

My former kidney got a good flushing out and was put in her new home later that afternoon. I’m told — and I’m proud of this — that she started pumping out urine before the surgeons even finished sewing her in place.

I stayed two nights in a little room at St. Paul’s Hospital, just down the hall from my match. I left the hospital at noon on Wednesday, walking slowly and feeling very tired.

Spare no tears for me though. The heroes are the patients who get the kidneys — they endure far more. But in the end, they not only stay alive, they live joyously, unencumbered by dialysis machines either at home or in the hospital.

I spent two more days in Vancouver at relatives. I took a few Tramadol (pain killers). Friday morning, my husband and I drove home to Kamloops. On Saturday afternoon, we went to a beautiful outdoor wedding and reception.

I felt really poorly once about a week after my surgery. But by the next day, I felt great and never looked back. The second Monday after surgery, I returned to work. Granted, it’s a desk job, no physical labour required aside from typing into a keyboard. If I had any other kind of a job, I likely would have been off for a month.

I also was back running long distance by September with no change in my energy.

As for scars, if you look really closely, there are two tiny scars on my left side and about a three-inch line well below my navel. If I had my shape from the 1980s, I could easily wear a bikini and no one would be the wiser.

I would like to say it’s because I’m tough, but I’ve read stories by other people who have donated kidneys and my recovery does not appear unique.

So should you donate a kidney? You should at least consider it. If you are a person who spends a lot of time worrying about your health, even though you are healthy, you probably shouldn’t. You will fixate on potential problems and experience stress you don’t need.

But if you are a healthy person who has always had normal blood pressure and you want improve a fellow human being’s life — maybe even save it — the information about live donation is right at your fingertips.

When I do think about my left kidney, I get a warm feeling that I was able to help a family. It makes me smile at times when I am feeling low.

My match regularly sends me a text to thank me. He calls me his angel. His kids wrote letters of thanks. Those are lovely gestures and I am always happy to hear he is doing well.

However, If I had never heard from him again, if he never once said thank you, if he ended up being a person who abused his body because of the disease of addiction, it would not have made me regret my decision.

I gave him a kidney and that’s that. The kidney was his. The decision to donate was mine and I had no expectation or desire for gratitude.

Some people are not able to say thank you for reasons of their own. They don’t make contact and that leaves some donors angry or hurt and second-guessing their decision.

Don’t donate if you expect thanks. Do it because it’s the right thing to do. You have a vital organ that you don’t need and someone else does.

It’s common sense.

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