This story was told to me by Katina via telephone.
As it does for so many others, kidney disease runs in Katina’s family. Her grandfather and brother both suffered from it. Her brother had his first transplant at the age of twenty. Katina considered donating then, but it wasn’t until her brother sadly succumbed to his illness that she resolved to donate as long as she was eligible.
Before she began the long and arduous testing process, she became involved with fundraisers to bring awareness to kidney disease. A patient started helping out, and once Katina got to know her, she decided that this was the person she wanted to donate her kidney to.
“I didn’t know if I would donate to someone I knew because if the kidney failed, it would weigh very heavily on me. People don’t always think about that. Many wondered why I would donate to a relative stranger.”
With a recipient identified, Katina went for a blood compatibility test, the first step in the testing process. Unfortunately, Katina’s blood type wouldn’t allow her to donate to her chosen recipient. Determined, Katina became part of a paired exchange so that her intended recipient would still benefit from her charity.
Through the testing process, Katina worried from time to time that she wouldn’t be allowed to donate because of her family history. But then she passed test after test and just a few weeks ago, she got what she thought was the all-clear to donate. Excited, she told the intended recipient. Then, as often happens with kidney donation, things changed.
Until that point, Katina had shown no signs of kidney disease. Her transplant team had given her the good news that she could donate, they were just waiting on one last test result, which they’d expected to be fine. Instead, the test showed two cysts on Katina’s kidney.
She was disappointed more than she was scared. “When you go through the tests, and you keep getting these passes and moving forward in the process, then all of a sudden it’s held up in the end. It’s a little frustrating. But everything happens for a reason.”
Katina has to go back in six months for tests to determine whether the cysts have grown. If they haven’t, she may still be able to donate. “I know that for whomever my recipient ends up being, six months is a long time to keep up hope. I just hope I’m healthy enough to donate by then.”
The good news is that the intended recipient is doing well. She continues to work in the nursing field even though she’s on hemodialysis. Apart from the renal failure, her health is great.
In addition, the recipient found another potential donor. A man she’d met through Facebook, and who’d already been through all the testing in his home state of Kentucky, said he’d donate to her if she didn’t want to wait for Katina. But where there’s significant liability, there’s also significant red tape. As it turns out, Indiana requires all tests to be performed in-state, which means this man will have to go through all the testing again. That could take a couple of months at the least.
“The last time I talked to [the recipient] she said she didn’t know how to feel about it. She’s numb. She tries not to get her hopes up, not to overthink it.”
Katina’s story isn’t over, and it won’t be for a few months yet. Until then, she remains hopeful that she will be able to donate. In the meantime, she continues to spread awareness of kidney disease and kidney donation. She leaves the rest up to God.
When I started the donation process, it took my transplant team a month just to tell me they were going to go with another donor. That donor fell through, and another month later, they came back and asked if I was still interested. Just that little start-stop-start made me feel like I was staring into an empty void of sky, wondering what the future held. I can’t imagine what it’s like to get to the end of the process, then basically have to start over again. Yet it’s something to be thankful for, as difficult as it is. Transplantation isn’t like fixing bad plumbing. You don’t have a lot of opportunities to fix things that go wrong, and no one wants to make a healthy person sick. Still, I admire people like Katina, her recipient, and the other potential donor in this story for having the determination and patience, both physically and emotionally, to endure.
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