My Living Donation Journey – Part 9: The Recovery

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.

I realize it has taken me a while to write this last post, but I wanted to give it some time to be sure I was fully recovered and feeling back to normal before I blogged about it!

It has been two and a half months since I donated my kidney on May 1st, and I can honestly say I am feeling 100% back to normal. Everyone responds to surgery differently and from talking to many other living donors, I have realized my experience and recovery was very easy; for that I am grateful.  I experienced some bumps in the road to recovery, which I will talk about later in this post, but first, I want to pick up where my last post left off, which was the day of my surgery.

My recovery was what I was most worried about. Everything was unknown; although I’ve had three abdominal surgeries in the past, I’ve never had a kidney removed and I had no idea how it would affect me. I had done the research and talked to as many people as possible who could give me an idea of what to expect, but no one could tell me exactly how my body would react to the surgery. Here is a brief synopsis of my time spent in the hospital:

I got a lot of gifts and cards during my recovery. This is me with a kidney pillow and mini kidney portrait made for me with love by my friend Emily Biondi, a kidney recipient and former LLF intern.

Day 1 & 2, post-nephrectomy: As I mentioned in my last post, waking up from surgery with half of a numb hand was unexpected, but I like to think I handled it pretty gracefully.  Luckily, the problem worked itself out and when I woke up the next morning, I was pleasantly surprised to realize I had regained all feeling back in my left hand.

I had a lot of visitors the first few days after my surgery which kept my spirits high. Physically, I was sore; it felt like I was recovering from a very intense abdominal workout. The pain really wasn’t too bad and I barely used the pain pump they had me hooked up to. I didn’t do any walking until later in the day on day two, but when I did, it wasn’t bad at all. The thing I remember most was just being tired.

Day 3, post-nephrectomy: The third day I was in the hospital, I spiked a fever and woke up feeling nauseous. The nurses brought me medicine for both and while the nausea and fever went away, I  felt lethargic and sick most of the day. The nausea was most likely due to my pain pump being removed and switching to oral pain medication.  Developing a fever post-surgery is actually pretty common, so no one was too concerned. It was however one of the factors preventing me from being discharged that day.

This is me leaving the hospital (the first time!)

I was pretty bummed about this. I missed my dog and my own bed, I wanted to feel better, I wanted to eat solid foods (which they had given me the night before but then took away from me that morning), and I just wanted to go home. That was a rough day for me, but by the afternoon I was feeling a lot better and my mood had perked up a little, especially after my surgeon came in to tell me he had spoken to the transplant surgeon in Toledo and my kidney was “kicking butt.” That was fantastic news!

The surgeons and nurses also kept telling me I needed to walk more if I wanted to be discharged, so I turned into a walking machine that day. The next day, the fourth day after my surgery, I was thrilled to learn I was being discharged from the hospital.

A bump in the road

Me and my dog, Cooper, were thrilled when we were reunited briefly between my hospital visits.

Upon arriving home, my mom and friends helped me get settled. My mom went grocery shopping for me and bought me food based on what I felt I could stomach. I was back to eating solid foods at this point, but barely had an appetite and got full very quickly so I stuck to eating small, healthy snacks.

I was happy to be home, but that was short-lived when I hit my “bump in the road.” As you can see in pictures, while in the hospital, I had an IV in each of my hands. When I got home, I noticed my right hand was pretty sore and red where they had removed my IV. I called the hospital and was told to keep it clean and covered and call back if it got worse. Well, the next morning it was worse. My IV site had somehow gotten infected while I was in the hospital and went undetected by everyone (including me!), so off to the ER I went.

This was me, fully healed, waiting to be discharged from the hospital for the second (and last) time.

To be on the safe side, I was re-admitted into the hospital and started on IV antibiotics. My hand continued to swell and got much worse before it got better. It was more painful than my nephrectomy! I was pretty annoyed to be back in the hospital after only getting to spend a half a day at home, but I can’t say enough good things about the care I received from the transplant doctors, ER staff, and nurses who took care of me that weekend. Infiltrated IVs can cause a lot of problems, but thankfully I was in very good hands.

I stayed in the hospital for three more days on a steady dosage of antibiotics and pain medicine. By Monday, my hand was better and I was sent home for good. I believe my transplant surgeon’s exact words to me were, “You can go home, and I don’t want to see your face until clinic on the 16th.” Music to my ears!

Back to normal

Here I am, fully recovered and back to normal!

The rest of my recovery time went smoothly. I walked a lot and ventured out of my house when I could. A week and a half after surgery, my swelling had gone down and I was able to wear jeans to the movies with my friends. That was an exciting day.

My follow-up appointment on May 16th went great and all my lab work came back completely normal. I was told I could drive and that I could go back to work a week later if I was up to it; and I was!

I went back to work on May 23rd (a week earlier than I had originally anticipated) and other than being pretty tired for the first few weeks I was back, I felt fantastic.

Reflecting on the experience

These days, I feel so great I sometimes forget I donated a kidney. While it used to be all I thought about, it isn’t in the forefront of my mind anymore. I’m not in any pain, my scars are barely noticeable, my energy levels are back to normal – physically I don’t feel any different than before my surgery.

However, on an emotional level, things are very different. I am glad to have been part of a life-saving process, and am happy to know Tyler and my recipient are doing well. Tyler and I talk from time to time, and it’s so exciting to ask how he’s doing and to get good news, which was a much different case a few months ago.

I still have not heard from my recipient in Toledo, and it’s unclear if I ever will. That’s the one part of this process I wish were different. I’m so filled with curiosity about her, her life, and how she’s doing now. The only thing I’ve been told is that she is 44, a wife and a mother, and that she was waiting for a kidney for about a year and a half. I hope to one day be able to correspond with her, but for now I’m just thankful that everyone involved (as far as I know) is happy and healthy.

If you’d like to read my past posts about this incredible journey, click the links below:

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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About Lauren

Lauren Muskauski is the communications associate at The Living Legacy Foundation. She heads up many community outreach initiatives and projects, with a focus on middle school, high school and college outreach. She also manages The LLF’s and Donate Life Maryland’s presence on social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook. Lauren’s commitment to donation started early when she registered as an organ, eye and tissue donor at the MVA upon receiving her first drivers’ license, but was then reinforced a few years later when her father passed away while waiting for a liver transplant. Now, she continues to be inspired on a daily basis by the generosity of donors and their families, as well as the gratitude exhibited by every recipient she meets.
This entry was posted in Living Donation, Transplant Recipients. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to My Living Donation Journey – Part 9: The Recovery

  1. Barbara Blumthal says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this last phase. You are such an inspiration and hopefully with the blogs, may help others decide if donation is for them.
    Barb Blumthal, (tylers great aunt)

  2. Jim Chittock says:

    Thank you for sharing your story! I read your blog many months ago as I was making my decision to be non-directed donor. I am now 50 days away from giving my extra kidney to a young mother in NJ. I couldn’t be happier about it!

  3. Benter Odiwuor says:

    You are such an inspiration, this makes me want to do more. For the love of our beloved Brian Jake who is a spirit donor, my family are registered donors. your story is such an encouragement to many and hope your recipient gets in touch with you. God bless you so much.

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