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Peggy Parker, left, with her aunt Amie Griggs

Giving ‘the Gift of Life’ is no simple process

I first learned that Amie, a family member, needed a kidney nearly two years ago.  She has polycystic kidney disease. It is hereditary, and both her father and grandmother died from it.

I completed a potential donor card which I sent to the Legacy Good Samaritan Transplant Center. I received a donor packet which I reviewed, but then put aside for about six months. I wanted to make sure I was not making a rash decision. My family members were NOT excited that I was considering donating a kidney.

I completed the packet and returned it to the transplant center. In early 2013, I received a call from the transplant team to start the donation evaluation process. It included a thorough health history, physical exam and several diagnostic tests. If I did not meet the requirements at any step, I would have been declined as a donor. Testing included 24-hour blood pressure monitoring, 24-hour urine, ECG, CT scans, glucose tolerance test, EKG, CT scans and multiple blood tests on multiple occasions. The last blood test required 14 tubes of blood – a record for me!

"Every year in America, 69,000 people die from kidney failure. Many of those lives could be saved if more people were willing to donate a kidney", says Peggy Parker.

Not only did I need to have a compatible blood type with Amie, but I also had to be healthy enough to donate. One of the last tests was a CT scan to determine if I had both kidneys, and which would be best to take. They decided my right kidney was the best option, based on my anatomy. Unfortunately, that meant I had to have an “open” surgery, instead of a simpler laparoscopy. That meant a larger incision of seven inches, longer hospitalization and longer recovery.

Testing took about four months, and I did not tell Amie until I had almost completed the process. In June 2013, I went into her office and told her that I was undergoing the donor evaluation process and that, so far, all was well. She was speechless, and then started to cry. I, of course, started to cry, too.

I finished the testing in mid-summer 2013, and we set our transplant date for Monday, December 2. We both wanted to enjoy our summers before having surgery. We had our surgery as planned. I went home on Thursday, and she on Saturday.

As a nurse, I knew clinically what to expect – but this was my first surgery. My husband was at side during my entire recovery. Due to my incision, my right side was very stiff and I needed help getting in and out of bed.  I was pretty tired for several weeks, but I gradually regained my appetite and strength and returned to work on January 13.

Amie had to have more surgery in March to remove her native kidneys, because they were making her ill. But she returned to work early April and now says she has not felt this well in 15 years. Prior to surgery, she was always cold and pale. Now she has pink cheeks and no longer bundles herself in sweaters. Amie does have to manage side effects from anti-rejection medications, which she will have to take for the rest of her life. She also has a shunt in place in case she ever needs dialysis.

Am I glad I did it?  Absolutely.  Even though I took nearly a year to officially decide to proceed, I knew from that initial conversation with Amie that I would do it if I was deemed an appropriate donor.  I couldn’t not do it, but I’m also glad it’s over and that I will never have to do it again!