After an ultrasound revealed that I have two kidneys and that they’re in relatively good health last week, the testing to see if I’m a match to donate one to Niem seems to have gotten more specific to see if I match his physiology. As a matter of fact, the next test is known as the tissue typing/compatibility test and will give us a clearer insight into whether my particular cellular make-up matches Niem’s enough to be accepted by his body, and not reject the organ.
Before scheduling the test, I had an opportunity to attend an informational meeting with Niem and Linda, Niem’s girlfriend, on kidney donation sponsored by UCSF with a surgeon as a guest speaker. I was excited to be able to ask questions Melanie and I had been wondering about and to hear more details about the actual surgery.
It was great to be there to support Niem and try and be a well-informed donor, but these meetings are not a joyous affair. Niem didn’t look like most of the people attending because many were visibly ill or quite compromised in their health. I wondered if it was because of their need for a kidney. It felt like Niem, Linda and I were in our own little bubble of hope because we had each other.
As the surgeon spoke, he detailed much of what I already knew, but it was nice to hear how routine the surgeries were. They’ve done thousands of these with success and he showed us some great statistics on it. The thing he stressed most in his presentation is how everyone should make their best effort to find a living donor. It gives you an immediate access to a kidney without being on a waitlist, and the percentage of surgical success as well as the lifetime of the kidney are much higher with living donors than cadaver donations.
The other members of his staff included a living donor and transplant coordinator. They shared a few stories of random people who stepped forward and donated one. There was someone’s mailman who did, and a teacher who did for their student, for no other reason than because they could. Most of the questions from attendees revolved around how they could move themselves up their donor list, or go to one that had a shorter waitlist. It was heartbreaking to hear their stories.
I asked about the histocompatibility process for a donor and they explained that there were ten antigens, not six as I had previously thought, that we each possess. After I find out how many I match to Niem, if any, there’s one last test that would remain. We have to literally take a drop of blood from each of us and put them in a slide and see if his cells reject any of mine under a microscope. To think that after everything's said and done that it comes down to whether Niem’s cells and mine get along is incredible. If our friendship is any indication, I think they will.
Everyone had a chance to ask them questions after the presentation and I made sure to cover my bases on the things I was curious about. I was especially interested in speaking to the living donor coordinator. It turns out that I qualify for disability for the surgery recovery period of 4 - 6 weeks! Melanie was brilliant enough to suggest I ask. This one detail sets a lot into place for us not having to worry as much on the financial end of it, because this would cover half of it.
After the weekend’s presentation, I learn that it’s kosher to talk to my coordinator on timelines since there was a story or two on the subject. I tell Rachel that if Melanie gets into UCSF’s nurse practitioner school, I’ll need to have fully recovered from the surgery by June to take over full care of my daughters. She responds positively and says she will inform the nursing team so that they can try and quicken the testing pace once they receive the package back that they’re going to FedEx to me. I’m happy to hear the news.
After getting off the phone, I think to myself, “Did she just say she was going to FedEx me a package?” Two days later that package arrives and the box in the envelope reads “Donor Tissue Typing Kit.” Okay, this just got turned up a notch...was I going to have to draw my own blood here? As I opened the styrofoam package, six empty glass vials lay inside. Fortunately, the letter said to take it to a LabCorp near me to draw the blood. Phew...but six vials of blood is twice as many as I’ve ever had taken out of me at one time! Time for a new PR.
I decide not to make an appointment this time and just to show up to a location I haven’t been to before since walk-ins are welcome. I’m there when they open at 7:00, and I’m the fifth one in line. When they call my name, I hand over the box and the receptionist smiles at how well organized everything is. “Stanford really makes it easy for us to do the testing since they provide everything for us.” It turns out the vials have a anticoagulant to keep it intact on its Fedex trip back.
The blood draw is a breeze, but does take an extra minute to fill all of those vials. The lab handles the package and gives it to the FedEx folks and I’m done. The letter I received from Rachel said it would be 2 - 4 weeks to get the results on this one, but I’m hoping my call will shorten that time. After talking to Niem, I find out they already have his antigens. That night I have a dream of Niem and I dancing like we did when we were in high school. I hope it’s a sign of how our cells will do once they’re on that petri dish dancefloor.