Hello, my name is Debbie Olson and welcome to my story!
My Story of How One Person Saved My Life
Every one of us has a unique story to tell. Mine some of you already know and some of you may not. When I was a young I was diagnosed with End-stage renal disease, which in laymen’s terms means the one small kidney I was born with would fail in a matter of years. By the time I was starting high school I had to go on dialysis, which meant having to either be on a machine every night or be on a machine three times a week for several hours at a time. There were side effects including exhaustion, loss of weight and appetite, and my special side effect was migraines. I had the worst migraines I’ve ever had in my life. All of this was going on while trying to be a normal teenager by attending school (as much as possible), going to football games, and trying to have fun with my few but devoted friends who knew what I was going through. After a year and a half, my body was slowly deteriorating and my chances of seeing my high school graduation felt more and more unlikely. It was then on one of the last days of my sophomore year when I had to stop by the nurse’s office that everyone there was asking, “Where have you been?!?! The nurse has been looking all over campus for you! Your dad called, and they have a kidney for you!” I thought there was some mistake, so I simply replied, “Are you sure you got the message right?” They said, “Yes! Call your father immediately.” So, I picked up the phone (for those of you of younger generations this is before cell phones and texting so calling the school nurse’s office was the only way to contact me during the school day) and with my heart slightly beginning to beat a little faster I dialed my dad’s work number. He answered on the first ring, “Deb?” In a hesitant voice I said, “Dad, they’re telling me you called and there’s a kidney for me?” “Yes! I got the call just a short bit ago. I’m leaving now to pick you up, and then we’ll go straight to the hospital.” “Ok,” I said, “I guess I’ll see you soon.” Still feeling utter disbelief, I hung up the phone, thanked the nurse and her staff for everything and headed outside to wait for my dad. I didn’t know exactly how to feel. I wanted to be hopeful and as excited as everyone else around me but had been disappointed so many times in the past I really didn’t want to get my hopes up too high. My father picked me up with a big smile and a look of pure joy and relief. He had been there every day through the entire terrifying journey having to see me deteriorate and had been praying for an end to watching me suffer. We rushed off to the hospital and from the moment we got there it was like a whirlwind. Last tests of every type were done, one last round of dialysis was performed before surgery, and I was started on a high dose of anti-rejection medication to make sure my body was in the best condition possible to accept this new kidney. I was rushed off to surgery as the clock was ticking down on the viability of the donor kidney. I woke up in the recovery room several hours later feeling like I had never felt before in my life. I felt strong and like my body was REALLY working for the first time. I had no idea it was possible to feel as good as I did and that was almost immediately after surgery.
Now I’m not going to lie and say all transplants go that easy or smoothly. Some take a little time to work with their new bodies, some people must continue dialysis for a period afterward to help their body accept the new kidney, and there are some very rare occasions where the body simply won’t accept the new kidney. The good news is that with the medical advances of today, current research and testing, and the new anti-rejection medications out today these rare occurrences are becoming fewer and fewer. What I’m trying to make clear is the huge difference between one’s life before and after a kidney transplant. The freedom and quality of life one has after receiving a kidney is the difference between night and day. I bring this up because unfortunately, even donor organs don’t always last forever. My blessed gift was almost 30 years ago, and it is now dying on me. I have had to start dialysis all over again, which I was seriously considering not doing because of the hell I went through the first time. Luckily there have been advances in dialysis and the side effects haven’t been nearly as bad this time, but I’m in the prime of my life and tied to a machine wherever I go to stay alive. I MUST be on a dialysis machine three times a week for several hours at a time. If I miss one session there could be dire consequences. Traveling is difficult because I still must arrange for dialysis wherever I go. There is no real freedom without a transplant. I think one possible misconception is that dialysis makes one’s kidneys better, but the truth is it merely tries to keep you from getting worse and holding you at minimal safe kidney functioning levels to live. It isn’t a fun way to live and your family is left to watch you slowly deteriorate, especially if they are unable to donate a kidney to you. You may be asking why not just go back on the waitlist for another cadaver kidney after all it only took a year and a half? Well, as a matter of fact, I am currently trying to get on two waitlists neither of which are in California because the average wait for a kidney in California is 5-8 years because of all the people now waiting for organs and the lack of donors. Additionally, having to be on dialysis for any extended period is hard on your body and detrimental to your quality of life.
The doctors told me after my transplant in 1990 to expect the kidney I received to last about 10 years, so I’ve definitely beaten the odds at 28. I’ve had one doctor tell me recently that my cadaver transplant has lasted longer than any he’s heard of by at least 2-3 years, so it must have been an incredible match. Unfortunately, the likelihood of receiving a cadaver kidney with as strong a match as my first transplant anytime soon or even within a year and a half is highly unlikely due to the number of patients on the waitlist currently. In addition, I have the second rarest blood type (B-). Did you know there are over 450,000 men, women and children on dialysis at this very moment? Did you know there are approximately 115,000 men, women and children on waitlists for an organ transplant, 95% of which are waiting for a kidney or liver? Did you know that every 10 minutes another patient goes on the national donor waitlist? All this information and much more is available on the UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) website. What is truly lacking are organ donors. Living and cadaver donors are in huge shortage as you can see by the growing numbers. Living donor kidneys are those donated by family members or anyone alive willing to donate one of their kidneys. Research shows living donor organs have a much greater chance for long-term success and a significant decrease in the likelihood of rejection. This means a real chance for the recipients to enjoy long, healthy, and active lives. My goal for writing this is to appeal to your heart and humanity by putting my story out there to help put a real face and name to the faceless thousands suffering through the same situation. I’m hoping my story will encourage as many people as possible to consider to at least be tested for becoming a donor. I know becoming a donor is a big step, but even if you’re considering doing so you won’t automatically be accepted. You must be in good health and pass all tests before your kidney is even considered for donation.
If you do decide to consider living donation you can do so in one of two ways: directed or non-directed. Directed means specifically donating to a person of your choosing. Non-directed means your donated kidney goes to the most compatible match with the greatest need. My blood type is compatible with B and O if you consider me for donation. I know my family and I would be eternally grateful for anyone even considering being tested. If you’re not interested in living donation, please at least consider being a cadaver donor because in death you can save at least 8 lives by indicating that on your driver’s license. If you would like further information or to merely ask questions feel free to contact me through commenting on my blog or calling me at (657) 549-4668. Thank you all for taking the time to read my story and God bless you all!