Ahh…A New Year

Wow, 2013 nearly kicked my butt.  And in many ways, it left me wondering about many different aspects of my life.  There were some great things, some trying times, a lot of retrospection but all in all there is reason to know that 2014 is going to be a great year.  Since this is a blog about living kidney donorship (is that a word?) and transplants – I’ll start with the health stuff.

October of 2013 marked three years since Brutus moved north (to Denver) – and the unnamed – remaining, right kidney is kicking some arse!  As of December, my creatinine level was totally normal.  As in, normal for someone with 2 kidneys and I only have one! Since the donation, my creatinine has been high (as expected) and so has something called the GFR.  The GFR is what tells the medical community if someone has chronic kidney disease.  While my creatinine was high, my GFR was in a category that said I was Stage 3 of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)!  There are only five (5) stages, and higher is NOT better.  I don’t remember being told about that during making a decision or after the donation.  It was scary. Anyway, in November I started seeing a Nephrologist to help calm my anxiety about living with one kidney, and by December I was back to Stage 2.  Wahoo!  Maybe the remaining kidney’s name should be Rocky – for Rockin’ Right! 

The other health aspect in 2013, unfortunately is my blood pressure. Post-donation, a donor can expect a 5 mm/Hg  increase in diastolic pressure.  I went from normal/low blood pressure to way too high.  I’m working with the nephrologist to get it under control and for the time being am on beta blockers.  The good thing about that – its really helped with my migraines.  The bad news -they really make me sluggish.  The hope is that I can lose some more weight and my blood pressure will come under control – so hey – there’s a reason for a resolution if any…

All of this has been making me think it would really be great if I could find some funding to do some research and write a book about what it really means to be a Living Kidney Donor.  Or maybe what the transplant centers don’t tell you, and you need to find out for yourself.   What I learned in 2013 is that it’s a responsibility to take care of one’s body, to educate others about things I can and cannot do (take ibuprofin for one!), and how you really have to be an advocate for yourself in the health care system.   

This blog will be too long to totally capture a year – but other highlights or lowlights of 2013 include:

  1. Adopting a 12/13 year old yellow lab – Sophie suggesting calling her Tinkerbell – she became Tinks.  Tinks taught me to live every minute of my life and just enjoy the here and now.  She was only with us for 6 months before getting sick and having to be put down, but she made a lasting impression on my life and I’m forever grateful for having the opportunity.
  2. I spend most Saturdays volunteering for Luvin’ Labs and hanging out with the pups that have been rescued and are awaiting adoption.  I think the Lab (and probably most dog) motto should be “All you need is love, and a big slobbery kiss.”
  3. A job change – let’s leave this at – I’m learning a lot about how the Federal government works.  But it’s nice to be using my brain again.  
  4. Trips to Ohio to go to an OSU game, and visit some of the family and friends.  A trip to Orlando to hang out with cousins I’ve not spent time with since we were kids.  Oh yeah…while there I did a 10 mile race at Disney!  And of course trips to the DC area for work and there always seems to be time to see some of my DC pals. 
  5. Celebrating Hanakuh with Lisa, Brutus, Sophie, Daniel and Liz Latts – this also coincided with Thanksgiving, the twins turning 4, and the Ohio State/Michigan game.  

I’ve been blessed with expanding my network of friends across the country and locally in New Mexico, good health (for the most part), friends, family, pets, a great job, and a roof over my head.  Now here’s to 2014!   Image

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Three years: 36 months, 1095 days, 26,280 hours, 1,576,800 minutes…

That’s three years translated down to minutes – just an exercise to see if I could make it seem in words like it feels like in life since I donated my left kidney.  Didn’t work.  It really feels like forever ago.  Yet when I think about three (3) years, it seems like no time at all in the grand scheme of things.  I’ve had a lot of reminders lately on how precious life is so it seemed like a good time to get back to blogging and back to sharing about life as a kidney donor.

Although this blog seems to be to the contrary, I’ve historically been reluctant to share with strangers this whole experience.  I didn’t want it to seem like I was trying to be recognized or draw attention to myself.  But lately that seems counterproductive to what I was hoping would be a part of being a living donor – the opportunity to make a difference.  Sure, I get it – I made a difference for Lisa, Sophie and Daniel and I’m glad I did that; but what else can I do?

I’ve always been a believer in the notion that everything we do in life, every experience we have is part of a grand scheme.  And as we go through life, we are meant to learn from those experiences and they should make us stronger and smarter and encourage growth.  I believe we are put in situations for a specific reason and sometimes you don’t realize until much later what that reason is.  This whole donation was crazy to begin with – but there I was – working for Lisa at WellPoint, sympathetic to her challenges wanting to a successful business woman AND a single mom and then faced with the challenge of being in kidney failure.  It still amazes me I matched for donation. It still amazes me that after some challenges, the donation actually happened.  Still amazed that for me it seemed like such a non-event.  Thus I frequently find myself wondering why?  And what was I supposed to learn and do from this?

So now, after a couple of job switches in the past couple years, I’m working – yes getting paid – to work on a program to improve the quality of care for patients with End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD).  There are two outcomes for ESRD – death and transplant.  And from working on this project, I’m finally getting my voice and starting to share the living donation story.  I’m also seeking opportunities with organizations who want to develop donor education programs.  It’s kind of slow start due to my workload right now, but I will continue to trudge ahead, continue to start telling people why I’m so interested in preventing diabetes, hypertension and kidney disease, and I’ll continue to believe that however small one act seems – you never know what it will eventually build into.  Right now, I’ve feel pretty blessed.  Happy to be alive and happy to have the opportunities that present themselves.

I am not a cat…

As promised, I’m including pics from “the New Adventure”. This is Austin. He’s loosened up a bit today, and is exploring the house. All of the house. This evening, I’m afraid he thinks he’s a cat. He’s been trying to get on the dining table and counters…. He’s still an incredible joy and if you know anyone looking for a super fantastic dog, he will definitely be THE best dog buddy anyone has every wanted. He went to the vet today and pronounced to be around 1 1/2, certainly no 3 year old! He’s perfectly healthy and will get neutered next week (poor guy…). Please share if you know anyone who would give him a good home! You can also go to http://www.luvinlabs.com to see other available pups! Very Handsome BoyWent for a swim

A New Adventure

So, it has been established that I am an animal lover. And at times I agree with the statement that the more people I meet, the more I prefer dogs (and cats), but I swore no more animals in my house! No more 4-legged creatures to feed, take to the vet, take on walks, figure out what to do with when I travel, share my bed and sofa with, and on and on. So what do I do? Sign up to become a foster home for rescued Labs…. I actually gave this a bunch of thought and besides nearly crying every time the ASPCA commercials come on; it just kills me to see stories about abandoned animals, or those stuck in shelters, or chained in a yard, the list of animal cruelties goes on and on. So, I was browsing a website for a local rescue group – luv’n labs and came across a story about a lab. This young black lab had been left with friends of a soldier being deployed; and somehow ended up in a shelter. Or a dog that becomes an unwanted family member due to divorce. Anyway, I have a big yard, a nice size house, the means to pay for basic care, and the heart to try to save a dog from being euthanized while waiting for a forever family.

And today, Austn the big goofy black lab (mix) joined my household. While Brin and Gabby went with me to meet him and seemed perfectly fine with him on a leash with a different person. Brin isn’t being so hospitable at home. I’m hoping that resolves soon – but in the meantime – they aren’t trying to kill each other. And Austin – looks totally like a lab – but has a white chest and white feet. Super waggy tail and is incredibly sweet. He’s showing no interest in Kirby, Josey hasn’t made an appearance. He’s marked everything on the 1st floor of my house, but is currently sleeping soundly in his crate.

The most common question I’ve received as I’ve told people I’m embarking on this adventure is why? And my answer – because I can. I don’t see this as much different from donating a kidney. I’m doing something that is changing my life (and hopefully) someone else’s for the better. And I’m not just talking about Austin and any future rescue dogs – I’m talking about whomever is so lucky to adopt this beautiful pup. They are going to get a loyal, energetic, goofy companion…..and who could want more than that in a dog?

For those of you who might be reading this wondering what it has to do with kidney donation. Probably not much. However, I’m good at spin – and can totally rationalize that having yet another dog is going to take my amount of cardio up another notch, and thus keep me on my path to good health forever! I’d also say it’s another example of how being a living donor has given me greater confidence to try new things and pave my own course in life. One can either stand on the sidelines and hope someone else helps – or do it him/herself.

Regarding the ol’ kidney… me. I’m fine. Nothing to complain about healthwise. I had a nice section of skin taken off my back a couple months ago, it was cancerous, but won’t kill me. (so says the dermatologist). They got clear margins and no treatment was necessary. I haven’t had additional labwork to check kidney function. While I have some orders to get drawn, they aren’t due until October (2-year transplantversary!), and I’m just not worried. My blood pressure remains perfectly normal.

I’m hoping that Lisa will find some time to post her own update in this millennium. I just returned from Denver a few days ago and spent nearly a week with Lisa (and Brutus), the twins, members of her family (Liz, Bill and Adrienne) and friends. We had a great time. Daniel and Sophie are growing like weeds and are getting to be very good talkers.

As I finish this – Kirby (the cat) is laying under my legs next to the sofa, Gabby is on the 1st level of stairs dead to the world, Brin is on the tile in front of the door sleeping, and Austin is in his crate – snoring. Not a bad Sunday afternoon. I’ll post pics of Austin as soon as he acclimates a bit more!

Giving living organ donation a bad name…

So, when I woke up this morning and checked email and Facebook, I had received a message and a link to a story about a woman who gave her boss a kidney and was subsequently fired from her job.  See link: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/cruelest_cut_out_8iAZkm6NB0YWIBpBHsXEQP.  Now, I know a thing or two about donating a kidney to one’s boss…  First, I would venture to guess that there is a lot to the story that hasn’t come to light.  Things just don’t add up…  but really my concern is that this press/publicity will give living organ donation a bad rap.   For example, when the story was aired on CNN, the advice the reporter gave at the end – hold onto your organs.  Nice..  And I could understand such things if this boss turns out to be some vile, malicious excuse for a human who took advantage of a subordinate to gain life.  But, we don’t know that. Do we? 

So, this blog is from the perspective a living kidney donor who gave her kidney to her now former boss.  I feel blessed.  It’s funny though that this gift of life keeps giving.  In a much earlier post, I think I wrote about how one of the major annoyances in the whole giving a kidney to your boss scenario was dealing with our company’s legal and HR folks.  Holy Moly did today’s story make me glad for that annoyance.  WellPoint did a great thing in making sure I was protected (of course they were too….) and not being coerced into my decision.  Have there been naysayers in the system?  Yep – dumb comments like – wow, that’s job security… or that gives new meaning to brown noser.  Screw those people (excuse my frankness).   But overall, in the actual surgery, my recovery, my life now with one kidney – is just full of blessings.  

From comments posted on Facebook and elsewhere about today’s story, most people seem to be assuming the recipient is evil. And she may be.  But, I read the article with skepticism.  I’ve been through the donation screening process and I really wonder not only about the mental stability and capacity of the donor, but specifically of her intentions.  The donation process involves a lot of hard questions and hypothetical prodding of what if’s to challenge the donor and ensure he/she can deal with things like: what happens if the recipient rejects?   Will you blame yourself?  Will you regret donating if it doesn’t work?  You are getting a lot of positive attention right now – post-donation, attention shifts to the recipient.  Are you doing this for attention?  How will you feel when attention shifts?    I’d like to ask the donor – what did you expect related to professional treatment?  Was your employer aware of the donation and did they work with you to ensure you weren’t coerced?  If your boss treated you poorly – why did you donate in the 1st place?  Did you expect her behavior to change?  And probably many more – I’m fascinated by this.

Anyway, I’m eager to learn more as the story unfolds and I’m sure it will be interesting.  I no longer report to Lisa.  Is it because of the kidney?  No.  Did Lisa and I get along at all times and have no problems in the boss/subordinate & recipient/donor role scenario? No.  (sidebar – the health insurance industry is a bit stressful right now…)  But never have our disagreements been about the kidney.  Never have I expected or wanted different treatment at work because I donated a kidney.  I did what I did so the dynamic duo of Sophie and Daniel could grow up with their mom who wanted them so badly.   If Lisa had fired me – would I want to blame someone?  Absolutely – but that’s not because I’m a kidney donor – it’s because I’m human.  We don’t like to find fault with ourselves. 

Quick – 18 month post-donation update.  I’m alive and still opinionated.  I continue to try to get my weight down to a normal BMI – but like food more than exercise.  I feel absolutely terrific though.  I continue to work with a personal trainer and have recently started taking a Russian Kettlebell class – love it!  I’m running a 10k in 2 weeks.  I don’t have to have labwork until 2 years post-donation.  But do have a lab order should I feel like finding time to get my blood drawn.  My blood pressure was 110/80 at last check and that is awesome!  Wahoo!  All animals are well.  And I’m meeting a lot of new people lately through meet-ups and have been dating quite a bit.  I struggle with telling dates about being a living kidney donor.  Still seems a bit odd – oh you want to know something unique about me?  I give away my body organs….  Happy Spring! 

Happy National Donors/Valentines Day 2012!

My first kitty buddy - RIP Sebastian


Each day, an average of 79 people receive organ transplants. However, an average of 18 people die each day waiting for transplants that can’t take place because of the shortage of donated organs. Now isn’t that a cheery Valentine’s Day topic? Actually, in addition to being V-Day – it’s also National Donors Day – as in blood, tissue, organs…. One might say I’m a bit of a data geek and certainly one that has a special interest in organ donation, but it never fails to amaze me that we have an aspect of health care that is available and more and more common, yet still – we have people in the U.S. and in the world dying of organ failure. As I wrote a year ago, living organ donation isn’t for everyone. I’m obnoxiously happy that it worked so well for me and it continues to incentivize me to lead a healthier life (although I frequently ignore that… say, when I’m offered potato chips); and step out of my comfort zone. It’s also understandable that others wouldn’t want to take such a risk. I will continue to advocate and be a resource to anyone considering living donation and also – probably at least annually – suggest considering becoming an organ donor upon death. Consider the following facts:
• As of May 4, 2009, the percentage of recipients who were still living 5-years after their transplant is noted below for kidney, heart, liver, and lung.
o Kidney: 69.3%
o Heart: 74.9%
o Liver: 73.8%
o Lung: 54.4%
• In 2010, 62% of living donors were women. The statistic is reversed for deceased donation.
• In 2010, 67% of all deceased donors were White, 16% were Black, 13% Hispanic and 2.3% Asian.
• As of December 2011, the national waiting list was made up of 45% White, 29% Black, 18% Hispanic, and 7% Asian.
• In 2007, (the most recent data) there were almost 2.5 million deaths in the U.S. Imagine if every one of those persons had donated.
• Currently, more than 100 million people in the U.S. are signed up to be a donor—sign up and join them.
• Right now, there are more than enough people waiting for an organ to fill a large football stadium twice over.
If that made you want to explore options a bit and learn more about donation – here’s a helpful link: http://www.organdonor.gov/index.html.(it’s also the source for the above information)
So, some general updates. Our 18 months transplantversary will be on April 22nd, so I’ll have my final transplant center check-in required of living donors. I’m feeling absolutely great and am optimistic my labwork will agree. I changed positions within WellPoint at the end of January and while I’m still helping out with my old job until Lisa finds someone, I’m really excited about the new challenges and opportunities I have in the new position. All the animals are well. I had a portrait painted of Sebastian to honor my first pet and highly recommend the artist – http://www.megharper.com. The picture on the post is the 1st draft of his portrait. Josey is obnoxiously shy and hides when anyone comes over, however, she’s currently on her favorite evening resting spot – my lap. The dogs and I are getting a lot of exercise – we’re currently averaging 12-15,000 steps per day. That translates to about 7 miles per day. I love tired dogs! I’m also working with a personal trainer a couple times per week and throwing in some more cardio via running/walking intervals or spin classes. And with that – I am planning on going to a 6 am spin class on National Donors Day/Valentine’s Day and wish everyone a belated, and blessed 2012!

Happy Holidays and Bah Humbug

I’m in a bah humbug mood. It has been cloudy in New Mexico for days and wow, I miss the sun! To think that just mere weeks ago I was strongly considering moving back East, I must have been mad! However, we’re in this nice little weather pattern of actually getting precipitation in the form of snow. The dogs are delighted, my carpet is not. Today also marked the end of the live Christmas tree experiment, a few days short of Christmas. I really don’t know what I was doing thinking to believe that a live tree and a kitten, and a cat that eats live things would work. Josey was basically living in the tree – ornaments scattered daily, limbs missing daily, lights removed from tree. Kirby was eating enough needles, well – let’s just say that cats don’t digest pine needles well and again, my carpet wasn’t happy. Oh – and the ornaments removed from the tree – chewed on by the dogs…. Bah Humbug!

Changing the poor Sarah subject – First, Happy Hanukkah to Brutus, the Latts Family and all of my Jewish friends and acquaintances. Brutus is getting yet another international trip in 2011 with a trip to the beach in Mexico for the holidays. Damn kidney. Oops, that was very bah humbugish! I hope they have a wonderful time.
What I really wanted to blog about this week was the concept of gifts. I will openly admit that after growing up barely able to sleep on Christmas Eve due to the anticipation of what would be found under the tree – at home, at each grandparents, etc. I really have a hard time with giving and receiving gifts at this point in my life. Receiving…I feel extremely fortunate that when I really want something, I buy it. I don’t need or really want people spending their money on me. I’d really rather they’d use their money to donate to a charity or buy something they really want for themselves or to help others. I’m blessed; I have a great job, nice income and just don’t need the extravagance of people buying for me. I’ve also tried not be the person who gives gifts just because of expectations. I like for gifts to mean something. I want them to be more than useful, but to show that I really know that person and what would benefit them or give them joy – because I can. I recently saw a story that people have started to register for Christmas – kind of like registering for a baby shower or a wedding. Really? Is that what we’ve come to? The proponents of this concept said that it helps reduce gift returns, regifting, etc. So, I guess I have it all wrong – giving gifts isn’t about surprise, or joy, or helping and frankly it leads me to believe we live in a world where gifts are an expectation and we better get it right…. Or there will be disappointment, drama and waste. I don’t think my view on the subject makes me a scrooge, and I will continue to be deliberate and thoughtful about gift giving. But I WILL NOT check registries for Christmas! (or Hanukkah). So call me old-fashioned or even selfish, but to me – a gift should be from the heart.

Another tangent….over Thanksgiving, my Uncle Ronnie passed away. Totally unexpected and definitely too young. Although too late, I’d like to thank him for the joy he brought to our family and most of all the gift of nicknames. To my Uncle Ronnie, I was Boston Sarah – I had a bit of speech issue when I was younger and let’s just say I had an accent uncommon to Ohio. Nicknames now run rampant in our family and it’s sometimes hard to remember real names, but nicknames are so much more fun! My nephew Eric – Buckaroo until he was born, now he’s just E. Nephew Reed – BR – baby Reed, now Bitzer. Gabby (the dog) – Zilla, Gabbers; and the list goes on. It was great to have an opportunity to catch up with my cousins and their families, but sad due to the family loss. But to Uncle Ronnie – thank you and you will definitely be missed but in our hearts forever.

During this holiday season, I’d like to be thankful for all the gifts in my life: my animals (even the puker), my family, my friends, my health and strength, the sun that usually comes out in New Mexico, everyday opportunities and laughter. I’m so incredibly blessed in my life and look forward to an incredible 2012. Happy holidays to all!