But for the Grace of God...

by Karen, a mother who become the first laparoscopic kidney donor in Western New York

My daughter Carissa has had diabetes since age ten. She has been battling with this hideous disease for forever it seems. She is a very loving girl, with a kind and gentle spirit. She has spunk, and she never gives up. She is married to the most wonderful man whom we all love. She was told that her kidneys were not functioning properly, and was put on medications. Last July (2000) she had to go on dialysis. She was told that she would need to remain on dialysis indefinitely, or she could consider a kidney transplant. This was all very sad and also frightening for her and her husband, and for all of us. The bright spot was that there were so many family members who were willing to donate a kidney to Carissa.

They decided to test myself and my middle daughter first, to see if either of us would match well. I matched extremely well. I was very very happy. I felt so good inside. I had thought from the beginning, that it would be me who would donate their kidney to Carissa. I know she was excited also. The tests would begin. They test you one step at a time. First, I had to have a physical to see that I was physically fit enough to do this. I am 48 years old, and in good health. They have to check your kidney function also, and they need to see exactly where your kidneys are located. I passed all tests with flying colors. The angiogram of the kidney was the last test. This was the most uncomfortable. It all turned out great.

The next step was now to see the surgeon. My daughter seemed to be getting weaker. Her voice just always sounded so tiny and weak. I was worried. I was also becoming increasingly frightened inside. I knew I would do this, but still, one becomes afraid. I prayed constantly and talked with God. Carissa said she too, was afraid. She had to go through a battery of tests also. Things were coming together, and we knew soon the surgery would take place. We all decided that it would be best to have the transplant after Christmas. We all had a wonderful holiday.

I saw the surgeon the end of December. I was totally thrown for a loop. He explained to me that I had a choice. I could choose between the open flank method of surgery which is the norm, or that I could have this done laparoscopically. I would be the first live donor laparoscopic nephrectomy in Western NY. I was at a loss for words. I truly did not know what to think. The surgeons explained it to me and I went home to do some research and much praying. I changed my mind so many times. I just could not decide.

After much research, and study and also corresponding with other people, I decided to go with the laparoscopic surgery. I discussed this with my daughter and other family members. I then went to visit with the laparoscopic surgeon. He laid it all out to me, no holds barred. The laparoscopic method is new but I feel it is the wave of the future. It does not harm the kidney in any way. One does not have to have that awful big cut, which is about 8-12 inches long beneath the ribs. Sometimes one needs to have a rib removed also. Needless to say that is painful and takes about two months to fully recuperate from.

The surgery is a major surgery. However with the laparoscopic method I was out of the hospital on day three. I was out of bed and walking the day after the surgery. I walked down to see my daughter on day two also. Instead of painful extensive cuts through muscle and nerve tissue, they made four small holes in my abdomen. They inserted surgical instruments and a thin fibre-optic video camera, then performed the entire operation while watching a television screen. The laparoscope is a long slender optical instrument that works something like a periscope. The surgeons cut away the kidney from the surrounding tissue, then staple shut and sever the blood vessels. A retractable synthetic sack is inserted through one of the holes to capture the kidney. The kidney, compressed, but fully intact, is removed through one of the holes, which is enlarged to about three inches. Then the kidney is rushed to the surgeons who will put it inside the recipient.

My daughter came through the surgery very well. The kidney started working instantly. We all felt so emotional and full of love. It was truly a miracle to us. My daughter came home on day 6 after the surgery. She continues to do well. I am so thankful that I could do this, and that it all worked out so well. I have minimal scarring, and I am doing very well. The laparoscopic surgery is available to people who are candidates for this surgical procedure. It surely eases the pain, and one can return to normal much much quicker than with the open flank method of surgery. Not everybody would be a candidate for this surgery now, but as the doctors experience increases, they will be able to offer this to just about anybody that is a candidate for donating a kidney. Laparoscopic surgery is much less invasive. We had top-notch surgeons and the most excellent surgical team. I just wish to say to all of you out there who are thinking of donating a kidney to a loved one that you can do this. You truly can. It is indeed, a miracle that this surgery can be performed. Now, you can be offered the laparoscopic surgery for kidney donation also, which alleviates much of the pain and suffering.

Our transplant took place on February 12th, 2001, which was close to Valentines Day. This was a Valentines Day we always will treasure and it will be more special each year.

But for the grace of God...