My Living Donation Journey – Part 8: The Surgery

Although The Living Legacy Foundation only facilitates deceased organ, eye and tissue donation, our organization is supportive of all members of the transplant community, including those involved in living donation. Because of this, Lauren Muskauski, community outreach associate for The LLF, thought it would be interesting to write about her own experiences as she navigated through the process of becoming a living donor. These blog entries, pulled from her personal journal, will be posted in parts for the next few weeks as she awaits the final stage of her journey: surgery. For more information about living donation, you may visit one of our transplant centers’ web pages: University of Maryland Medical Center, www.umm.edu/transplant or The Johns Hopkins Hospital, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/transplant.

Heading to the hospital at 5:30am

Well, here I am: a few days post-donation, writing this blog post from the comfort of my own bed. The past week has been such a whirlwind of events and emotions – I hope I am able to do them justice.

Tuesday was the day of my donation. I arrived at the hospital in good spirits and tried my best to stay calm. I did a pretty good job with this, as did my mom, which was surprising.

Once I checked in and got dressed in my surgery ensemble, my pre-op area started to resemble a clown car! So many people were coming in and out, introducing themselves, asking a ton of questions and drawing blood for labs. Everyone was friendly and laughed at the jokes I was cracking in order to keep the mood light and my nerves under control.  I met one of the transplant team’s interns, who went over all the risks of my surgery with me and had me sign all the appropriate paperwork. One of the papers I signed said it was okay for the surgeons to remove my kidney. I paused for a second before signing and asked him, “not that I am going to do this, because I’m not, but what would happen if I said no to this surgery now?” I only asked because so many people have asked me this over the past few weeks. Since Tyler already had gotten his new kidney, everyone wanted to know what the protocol would be if I backed out. Jim, the intern, looked at me and said, “you know what? I have no idea. But ask one of the fellows and when you get an answer from them, please tell me because now I want to know!” I laughed and signed the paperwork. I can’t imagine anyone would ever go through the entire living donor evaluation process only to get to the operating room and refuse the surgery, but Jim said it wouldn’t be unheard of. I was surprised.

Getting prepped to go into the operating room

During this time, I began getting so many text messages and Facebook posts sending prayers and well-wishes that I couldn’t even keep up with responding to most of them. I will say this: I have never felt so loved in my entire life than I have during these past few days, but I will go more into that in the next post I write about my recovery.

My mom was able to come back with me at this point and I think she was definitely more nervous than I was. I met with the anesthesiologist, and then Dr. Dagher, my surgeon, came in and met my mom, asked how I was doing, and colored on the left side of my abdomen with a marker to indicate which kidney was being removed. I knew one of my coworkers (a donor services technician) would be coming into the operating room towards the end of my nephrectomy  to package my kidney and send it off to Toledo, and I informed Dr. Dagher that I had given our DSTs very specific instructions take pictures of my kidney for me. I told him he could be in them if he wanted and he laughed. Then it was time to roll!

We got to the new operating room, where I was informed I would be the first surgery to ever take place inside. The operating room was awesome (as far as operating rooms go) and everyone seemed excited to be there.  I was a little nervous, but knowing I was in good hands made it a little less nerve-racking. I joked around with the anesthesia team while they gave me the most glorious drugs in the world. As this was going on, I told them, “when I had my appendix removed, I woke up while they were extubating me and I backhanded whoever was doing it. I don’t remember, but they told me I did.” Everyone laughed and the woman who was strapping down my arms joked that it was okay if I backhanded the anesthesiologist because sometimes he needed to be put in his place. The last thing I remember is laughing hysterically at her comment.

My first post-nephrectomy picture, taken in the recovery room.

When I woke up from anesthesia, I wasn’t feeling any pain, just grogginess. I felt my stomach and it was much larger than it had been prior to surgery. I asked the nurse if my kidney was out and she said yes, and that everything had gone well. I don’t remember a whole lot about my recovery room experience because I was still pretty out of it, but I do remember telling the nurse she was ridiculous because she was a Duke fan (I graduated from University of Maryland, College Park – I am obligated to tell all Duke fans they are ridiculous).

My mom came back to recovery to see me once I was a little more conscious and she said people had been calling, texting and Facebooking her nonstop to see how I was doing, so I told her just to take my picture and post it to Facebook so everyone could see I was fine. She did, and then we waited to be moved to my hospital room.

One thing that concerned me at this time was that my thumb, index and middle finger on my left hand were all completely numb. I noticed and asked the nurse about it. She said she would mention it to the doctors, but that it probably had something to do with the position they had me in during surgery.

After a few hours of waiting, I was finally taken to a hospital room. The anesthesiologist came to see me and checked my left hand. It had all of its function; I just couldn’t feel most of it. He told me the feeling should come back within a few weeks and that although I was numb, there was nothing he would have done differently if he could go back and redo his part of my procedure. I tried to be as calm as possible about this news and look at the positives: I still had full use of my hand, the surgery had been successful, I was still healthy, and most importantly, I had saved a life that day.

Stay tuned for another entry about my recovery, or read my past posts about this incredible journey:

My Living Donation Journey – Part 1: The Decision
My Living Donation Journey – Part 2: Defending My Decision
My Living Donation Journey – Part 3: Taking a Break
My Living Donation Journey – Part 4: The Approval
My Living Donation Journey – Part 5: Holy Toledo!
My Living Donation Journey – Part 6: A New Kidney for Tyler
My Living Donation Journey – Part 7: Ciao, Left Kidney!
My Living Donation Journey – Part 8: The Surgery
My Living Donation Journey – Part 9: The Recovery

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5 Responses to My Living Donation Journey – Part 8: The Surgery

  1. Mike Keppel says:

    Lauren, bless you for your wonderful gift. And thank you for writing so well about your journey. I hope you have a very speedy recovery.

  2. Karen says:

    I’m curious to know how you’re doing now. Any residual pain, and if your hand is back to normal?

  3. Barbara Blumthal says:

    From Tyler’s Aunt Barbara
    I always look here to see if you have another blog. Hope you are fully recovered, and God Bless you.

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