I’ve always done really well on standardized tests. When I started the process of getting tested to donate my kidney I had no idea what was involved. I did know early on that there would be tests…and lots of them. I started the process in February of 2013. The testing process did not take a full year. The hold up in the process was really the fact that my mom had to get tested, then wait, then get retested for various issues to make sure she is healthy enough to endure a transplant.
I have been continuously impressed with Mayo Clinic, which is where all of my testing occurred and where the transplant will take place. The first time I went, I literally described it as Disneyland, but with needles and not rides at the end of the line. You get an itinerary in the mail that tells you which campus to show up to, what building, and what floor to check into. You go through a twisting and turning path that eventually leads to the receptionist, whom you give your fast pass – your Clinic Number. This lets them check you in for all your appointments for the day and lets the doctors know you are there. If you get really lucky you can zip through the turnstiles with no wait. I sometimes felt like I was cheating because I always got the first appointment of the day and it seemed like I often got to cut people in line waiting for a blood draw. To say the least, it is very well organized and I liked that it felt like a game to be played.
The evaluation process for a living kidney donor is not only enduring a comprehensive medical evaluation, but it is also psychological and educational in nature. They want to make sure you are medically healthy, have good kidney function, and have low surgical risk. I am very impressed with the thoroughness of the process. For me, my evaluation process included:
- Blood work – evaluate current functions of organs, blood counts, and prior exposure to viruses. Also blood typing.
- Urine Tests – check kidney function and looking for bacteria or blood in the urine.
- Chest X-Ray – determine any problems with lungs that would be problematic during surgery.
- Electrocardiogram (EKG) – to evaluate the heart rhythm and rate.
- Routine pap smear – checking for other health issues that would prevent you from being a donor.
- Iothalamate Testing – The weirdest test you will ever do, it literally feels like you wet your pants but you don’t. It essentially is a dye that they inject into your veins and they take a scan to see how well your kidneys process the dye out, I think it also shows the anatomy of your urology system.
- Urology Test – They put dye in your system, make you urinate, then wait an hour, make you urinate, then wait another hour and make you urinate to see how well your kidney processes the dye.
- HIV Testing – screening for specific viruses.
- CT Angio-Urogram-determine if the anatomy of the donor kidney will match up with the recipient.
- Genetic Testing-This was additional testing they had ordered when they found out about the family history we have with PPH/PAH. If I did have the gene for the disease they would have not allowed me to be a donor because it would no longer be in my best interest to donate.
- Crossmatch – blood typing and ross matching to determine if my antibodies will match with my moms.
The educational component of the evaluation included a psychological computerized test, meeting with a psychologist, required reading , and various meetings with donor advocates to ensure that I understand the process and the recovery time. The thing that I found very cool is that I have a team of doctors, nurses, advocates, and social workers that are fighting for what is in my best interests, as well as my mom has her own independent team doing the same. They met weekly to discuss our test results and whether or not we should continue with testing. Only if our goals align will the transplant happen. I think it would be a pretty noble profession to be involved in this kind of work.
A lot of people have asked me about how my life has to change after the surgery. Since it has been a year since my educational class, I actually had to look it up. I’m supposed to take Tylenol or aspirin instead of ibuprofen, Aleve, etc. I’m supposed to stay hydrated with caffeine and alcohol in moderation. I don’t have any dietary restrictions, although they recommend a “heart-healthy” diet which they probably recommend to every American. I also thought there was some kind of warning against too much protein, but I can’t find that in my paperwork. There are also long-term health check ups in 6 months, a year, and two years, and then I am supposed to regularly go to my general physician.
Overall, the testing could be completed in a few FULL days. It’s great to know that I am a picture of health and, according to my most recent blood work to cross check my blood with my mom’s, we are “a perfect match.” Thirty-two hours and counting until surgery.