I woke up yesterday morning feeling very emotional. Just the night before Lonnie had been called to say they had a kidney for him and he needed to get to UW Hospital. I was excited for him. This was the moment we had been waiting for. So why did I wake up with so many mixed emotions? Of course I was thrilled -- of course I was not disappointed that it wasn't the way we had planned -- but something was off. I called Mike on my way to work and he knew right away that something wasn't right. When he asked me why I wasn't more excited I just started crying. I didn't know what on earth was wrong with me. Well, fortunately my husband knows me better than I know myself. He said, "you need to go". In the minute he said that I knew he was right. I couldn't get excited because I was not there with them. I was not there seeing the culmination of our ten month ride on the emotional rollercoaster. I had patients scheduled all day and I was supposed to take my staff out for a belated Christmas dinner, but Mike assured me that all of that could be rescheduled. I made plans with Janel for the two of us to follow each other to Madison and asked my staff to reschedule my afternoon. The excitement immediately poured into me and I didn't think I could possibly make it through the morning until we were able to leave. Kellie, Janel, and I decided to keep it a surprise to Ginger and Lonnie that I would also be making the trip down.
Janel and I left around 1:00 and I have to admit we were pushing the speed limit most of the way there. We were both just so thrilled to be on our way. When we were about 45 minutes away I called our transplant coordinator Chris(who has been a Godsend through all of this). Even though Chris and I have spent much time on the phone and emailing, we had not had the opportunity to meet face to face. Chris assured me she would meet us in the lobby of the hospital if she could get away for a few minutes. Lonnie was scheduled to be taken to surgery at 3:00 and at 2:45 we were still about 3 miles from UW Hospital when my phone rang. It was Kellie telling me to hurry up because they wanted to take him soon and she was trying hard to stall them! I called Chris back immediately and she assured me she would be in the lobby waiting to escort us to the transplant floor. Janel and I quickly parked and sprinted into the hospital. We could see Chris across the lobby and she hurried to greet us and sweep us into an elevator. I called Kellie and was still talking to her when the elevator doors opened on the 6th Floor. About 20 feet away at the elevator across the hall Kellie, Mark, their cousin Sara, and Ginger all gathered around Lonnie's bed while the staff member waited for the elevator to take him to surgery! We made it just in the nick of time! In fact, they had already pushed the elevator button and were simply waiting for the doors to open. God's timing was perfect once again. Amid tears and hugs we escorted Lonnie down to the surgery floor.
Ginger and Janel then went to pre-op with Lonnie while Kellie, Mark, Sara, and I spent time talking in the surgical waiting room. I got out my laptop and Kellie and I immediately began updating the Facebook world for the beginning of the journey. Poor Kellie and Mark had only had about 3 hours of sleep at this point as they were up all night driving to UW and getting Lonnie settled. At one point Janel texted us in the waiting room to let us know that Ginger thought the surgeon was "HOT"! That brought a laugh! Around 5:00 Ginger and Janel came out to join us and Sara headed back to Milwaukee. At 5:30 they called from the OR to say they were finally starting the surgery. We made our way to the cafeteria to eat supper and ended up sitting around a large table talking, laughing, and texting friends and relatives. At 6:30 the OR called again to say the kidney was already in and it would be about 2 more hours. By 7:00 we decided to head back to the surgical waiting room. There we did more Facebook updating, texting, and calling. Finally Ginger settled into the recliner and Janel, Kellie, Mark, and I got into a hot card game of "21". Around 8:00 I received a call from a friend from high school, Mark Stickney, who I have not seen in many years. He had been following my blog and my Facebook through our journey and he just wanted to call and say he was praying for us all. His brother gave a kidney to his sister long ago so he knew what we were all feeling. It is amazing how a phone call from one person can just make your night complete. Mark probably does not even realize how much of an impact a call like that can make and I thank him for the encouraging words. It reminded me how many people have been with us through all of this, praying and sending us their love.
At 8:10 we were surprised to already get the call that they were closing Lonnie up and the surgeon would be down soon! Dr. Fernandez strolled into the waiting room around 8:30 and took a seat. I instantly liked him -- and not because he was hot! :-) He had such a warm personality and was so caring. He explained that he felt everything went very well. He said the kidney was "beautiful" and he expected positive results. He also explained to us that due to Lonnie's calcified vessels he had to do a vessel graft from the donor as well. However, he also expected that would hold nicely. When he was finished updating us on Lonnie, Ginger told Dr. Fernandez that I was the original donor. He looked at me in confusion and said, "what happened?" After I briefly explained our journey he asked, "well, what are you going to do now?" I laughed and said I would like to know my options. He immediately told me that there was a way where I could change many lives, instead of just one. He talked about kidney chains, which I had read up on quite a bit. He explained that the chains are similar to a paired exchange except they continue through a chain of people with each recipient's donor "paying it forward" to the next person on the list. In order to start a chain, however, they must have a donor who does NOT have a recipient -- and that is now me! He also told me that UW has a strict policy that they end every chain they start. In other words, a chain that starts at UW could go all over the country, but the final recipient of that chain will always be right back at UW. I thought that was really awesome. He told me to think it over and if I decide to do it I should let Chris know. I will be praying about that -- but if I decide to do it, my donation will definitely be in honor of Lonnie.
At 9:40 we were finally able to see Lonnie. He was awake and smiling -- and soon we were all teary. He made us laugh right away again however when he was regaling us with stories of how he saw the kidney before surgery and it looked a lot like a chicken leg! What made that even funnier was that Ginger had a chicken leg for supper in the cafeteria and she said it tasted moldy --- hmmm.... :-) He also asked us if any of us had ever been run over by a truck because he thought that was what had happened to him today! But in reality he told us he did not really have much pain. He also told us all he loved us very much. Watching him express that to his daughters Kellie and Janel had me all choked up. So emotional. This was the moment we had been waiting for and it was an incredible feeling. Around 10 p.m. I felt I better start heading home. I hated to leave, but I drove all the way home on an incredibly emotional high! Luckily I had people to talk to on the phone to keep me company, including my dear friend Jolene who helped spearhead the "Hope For Lonnie" campaign.
Today I talked to Lonnie at about 3:30 p.m. He sounded great and was teasing me about talking on my phone while I drove(something he always teased me about before). I knew then that he was back to his old self! Dr. Fernandez says he is doing incredible and his labs look great. More importantly he is producing pee like crazy! Who knew that a guy could be judged solely on how much pee he could produce? The kidney is taking right over and doing what it is meant to do. Incredible.
We would be remiss if we did not take time to think of the wonderful donor who provided this kidney for Lonnie. The family of this man or woman is likely devastated right now, while we ride an emotional high. We can never begin to repay them for giving Lonnie his life back. On a side note, the other kidney from this same donor was also being transplanted while we were there. There was also a heart transplant going on, but we do not know if it was from the same donor. Either way -- how incredible to know that 3 people in that hospital were being given a new lease on life due to the courage and generosity of others.
I said it last night and I will say it again -- I witnessed a miracle. I truly believe that. Organ donation has never been so real to me. I have been talking about it for what seems like forever, but last night in that hospital I witnessed the reality of the miracle that it truly is.