Better Than Giving Her Flowers

...a live kidney donation
by Dave Barnekoff

In July of 1995 I donated a kidney to my wife.

Since the donation I have had people comment "You were really brave." and "Donating a kidney is the ultimate in sharing." Although these comments are nice, the real satisfaction is knowing that by donating a kidney I could really make somone else's life significantly better...I could make a difference.

My wife has polycystic kidney disease. A hereditary disease which reduces/destroys kidney function over time. During early 1994 she began to have complications as a result of her disease. She was admitted to the hospital several times. By June her kidney function has deteriorated significantly. During October she was back in the hospital again for several days and on December 27th, two days after Christmas, her kidneys failed. The doctors immediately put her on hemodialysis.

In early February, 1995 we went to UCSF so my wife could take the necessary tests to be placed on the waiting list for a donor kidney. While at UCSF the Transplant Coordinator ask if I had considered the possibility of being her donor. I wish I could say I had, but to be honest, until then the possibility of being a live donor had never crossed my mind.

To be considered as a donor I had to take a series of tests. The first test was to determine if we were least our tissues!!! We received the results back in mid February. We were compatible. Having researched both of our family's geneology over the years this news led to a dusting of yea olde files to determine if I had married my sister. The odds of two unrelated people matching is several thousand to 1.

Finding we weren't related I scheduled the remaining tests to determine if both of my kidneys were functioning fully and tests for an old stomach problem. Over the next two(2) months I passed all the tests with flying colors. We then scheduled the operations to take place on July 20th.

The Transplant Coordinator offered to talk to our two(2) young sons about the operation. Although we had kept our sons informed, this was a chance for them to talk to a third party about the operation. The Transplant Coordinator put on a first class multimedia presentation using charts, pictures, slides and a tour of the ward where we would be staying. I believe this significantly reduced the fears they had regarding the operation.

Several weeks prior to our operation our Transplant Coordinator also put us in contact with another couple who had undergone an organ transfer three(3) weeks earlier. This was very important to me as it help set expectations as to what was to happen during my stay in the hospital.

Day -1

UCSF scheduled us for admittance on the morning of the 19th for the pre-op blood tests, x-rays and visits with the surgeons, nurses and doctors who would be taking care of us during and after the operations. Starting on this day I was always amazed at the teamwork and communication network this teams of nurses and doctors maintained thru my entire stay. The only minor negative this day was the bowl prep but I assure you, after going thru this entire procedure, you want to be as clean as a whistle. This was also the last day you see solid food for 3-4 days.

Day 0

We were scheduled for surgery in the early afternoon. My wife had her final dialysis treatment in the morning. As scheduled they took us down to the pre-surgical area and hooked me up on an IV. Then the head surgical nurse appeared, like a Goddess, from the operating room. I wasn't even on drugs yet but that is another story. Playing Tomcat pilot under the oxygen mask in the operating room the lights went out...later when I awoke in the recovery room the only thing I could feel was something like a deep bruise on my left side. They had hooked me up to a Foley catheter something during the operation to drain the urine from my bladder. Although I was not initially thrilled about this, it's value became apparent when I found out how much liquid they pushed through me daily.

Day 1

Mid morning I heard one of the Doctors say, "Get him out of bed and walking." I thought, "Walking, I can't even move." Although I was on a pain pump I had not yet realized a hit once every five(5) minutes over half an hour would make getting in and out of bed significantly easier. The first crawl to the edge of the bed and standing turned out to be an Olympic like accomplishment. By early evening I was shuffling around the ward without to much assistance from the nurses aide. Had a few lovely back spasms but the staff quickly took care of these with medication. Still on a liquid diet, IV and the Foley.

Day 2

During the day I am getting out of bed and shuffling/walking with little to no assistance. I was walking 10-15 laps of the ward every couple of hours. Daytime TV could proably take some of the credit. Near late afternoon the Physical Therapist came by to invite me to drop by her area for some stretching exercises...stretching exercises!!! I just had an operating!!! What if the stitches rip and everything falls out!!! The Doctors, Nurses and Physical Therapist assured me the exercises would help my recovery. After I crossed this mind barrier I found the exercises really helped. Near evening the Doctors suggested that we disconnect the pain pump since I wasn't using it. I didn't realize the machine tracked usage. After some frantic negotiations they let a patient, wiser in the use of pain pumps, keep the pump for another day. Ended the day still on the liquid diet, IV and the Foley.

Day 3

This day can be summed up as a little daytime TV, walking alot of laps around the ward, more stretching exercises and two(2) sessions on the tread mill. Allthough I took a couple of recreational hits from the pain pump during the day I didn't need it and by early evening it was history. The only highlite/lowlite of the day was a high speed ride down the hall by some idiot from the x-ray area. Still on a liquid diet, IV and the Foley.

Day 4

The day included more laps, stretching exercises, tread mill and... finally SOLID food. The IV and Foley are GONE.

Day 5

I'm outta here. They provided me with pain medication in case I needed it. I never did. Although I was glad to be able to leave I must say our relationships with the UCSF medical staff...transplant coordinator, surgeons, doctors, nurses, nurses aides, physical therapist was and continues to be great. They are a seasoned professional of the finest.

Week 2-4

After I got home I began taking 1.5-2.0 mile walks twice a day. The walks were no problem but did require a short nap afterward.

Week 5-6

Returned to work half days. Stamina was still lacking but flexibility had mostly returned.

Week 7+

Returned to work fulltime.


Biked down Haleakala Crater on Maui a descent of 10,000 feet in 38 miles. OK, I admit it was mostly down hill.

As for my wife, prior to the operation she would be exhausted after attempting to walk 50-100 yards. Today she walks 2+ miles a day, volunteers in our local schools, crawls the malls and still has energy to burn. The good news is her health and energy level are back to where they were two(2) years ago, the bad news is I was starting to really enjoy the low energy version.