Mike and I arrived at the hospital at 5:30 a.m. They got me settled into the First Day Surgery Unit where all patients who will be admitted after surgery start out. Several nurses and doctors came to see me and get me ready to go. Shortly after, Craig and Sara arrived. Despite the strict signs saying only one person was allowed with the patient, they let them come see me. This was truly the moment we had waited for. We were here and it was all starting. I hugged them both and they went out to wait until it was Sara's turn to get started. My parents arrived shortly after and the nurse then brought them back to see me. As they were returning to the waiting area Craig and Sara were being led to the room next to me to get her prepped and ready to go. Around 7:30 or so they told Mike it was time for him to go. We hugged and said "I love you" and they wheeled me away. As I left I remember calling out a goodbye to Sara through a closed curtain. That was the last thing I remember until I woke up in recovery at 12:45!
Once I was back in my room I started asking about Sara. My family and Sara's family had waited together in the waiting area, but of course I was done first so my parents and Mike had come to my room. Mike went out to check on her and said that she was still in surgery and that there had been a few complications, but things were going fine. It was several hours before she would finally get out of surgery -- right around 5:30 or so -- and when we would find out just how serious those complications really were. Mike was there when Dr. Sollinger, Sara's surgeon, finally came out to talk to her family. Dr. Sollinger explained that the vessels to my kidney were very thin. The surgery had been going along routinely and they had the kidney in and all sewn in place. It was only once they removed the clamps that they realized they had a problem. Blood started coming out everywhere. They naturally tried to suture the vessels more, but that just made the problem worse. The vessels were tearing and the surgeons couldn't see what they were doing. Sara was losing blood and they needed to make a decision. If they just clamped off the vessels, the kidney would die and be useless. They kept giving her blood and fluids and tried to decide what to do. Eventually, Dr. Sollinger removed the kidney, placed it on ice, and clamped off Sara's vessels. Then he called in Dr. D'Alessandro, the second highest surgeon at UW(Dr. Sollinger is the first). They spent a lot of time just trying to decide what the best approach was. They eventually decided to get a donor vessel from the donor bank at UW and see if they could use that to connect the kidney. They sewed the vessel in place, connected the kidney, and unhooked the clamps. Thank God -- it held. No bleeding. But Sara's surgery had just gone from a 2-3 hour surgery to a 7.5 hour surgery and she lost a lot of blood. She needed to be admitted to the ICU to be watched. This included leaving a tube in her throat. Mike went to visit her and said his heart just about broke to see her there, half-sedated, tube in her throat, confused, and so swollen from the fluids. When he reported back to me, I almost felt guilty. I felt so terrible for her. My surgery had been so smooth and here she was in this condition. But then I remembered that she had the kidney and now we just needed to pray for a successful recovery, along with no rejection.
On Friday the surgery really hit me. I was tired and sore, had nausea and gas pain, and couldn't keep my eyes open. But also I was worried about Sara. Her family stopped by and so did the doctors and all reassured me that she would be okay. And Mike kept checking in with them and stopping by to see her, bringing me back updates. Friday night my friend Becky brought my boys to the hospital. It was so good to see them even though I could hardly stay awake! Saturday morning I woke up feeling miserable, but by afternoon I was starting to perk up and so glad to be able to talk to the boys and Mike. I also got the great news that Sara would be moved to a regular room that night, just down the hall from me. And, it also sounded like I was going to go home on Sunday! Sometime Saturday, however, my incision started bleeding from the corner. The doctors came by and put steri strips on it, hoping that would solve the problem. On Sunday morning, it appeared that maybe it had worked and I got up to take a long-awaited shower. It was then that I realized that the strips did not hold at all. My incision was bleeding everywhere. The resident on call tried calling my surgeon, Dr. Bellingham, to see what she wanted him to do, but she was not available. He was reluctant to put any more sutures in as Dr. Bellingham is known for her beautiful incisions and doesn't like to leave much scarring! I reassured him that I did not care if my 3 inch bikini line scar had a little more depth to it! He told me to be sure I told Dr. Bellingham that when I saw her next so that he didn't get in trouble. Then he proceeded to put 2 sutures in and stop the bleeding once and for all. Mike and I then took the much-awaited walk down to see Sara. She was still pretty drugged up and couldn't keep her eyes open long, but I was so thankful to finally see her. After that, Mike and I left the hospital and headed home.
This week has been a slow progress toward recovery. I really never had much for pain at the incision site and thankfully needed no pain meds since I was in the hospital. I did however have unpleasant gas pains and nausea. But each day that seems to subside a bit more and I can now say that I feel like I am getting back to my old self. Well, except for this huge, bruised stomach I now have! I am starting to think maybe they removed my kidney and implanted a baby! :-) But that too will resolve and eventually I will be left with only minimal scarring. Sara is making tremendous progress at the hospital. She has started Facebooking again, which means we know she is improving! The kidney isn't quite up to speed yet, so this morning they did a biopsy just to be sure all is well. The results were good! Colleen Belle is indeed waking up! I cannot wait for Sara to be able to get home and see her precious daughter Ashlyn. She has handled her mom's absence like a champ and her finger is healing well from her dog bite. And how great it will be for Craig to get back home as well. Those days in the hospital can be so long and even though he did come home briefly earlier in the week, it will be such a relief for them to all be together again as a family.
When I look back on what should have been a routine kidney transplant between two "thirty-something" girls, I am just amazed at how it all played out. Dr. Sollinger has done over 3,000 transplants and said it was the most difficult surgery he has ever done. He even said that at one point during the surgery he was very close to just leaving the kidney out, closing Sara up, and calling it a day. But thanks to his and Dr. D'Alessandro's persistence, Sara has the kidney she needs. Someday maybe we will know the reason that this was all more than we ever imagined -- or maybe we won't. In the end all that matters is that Sara ends up living a long, healthy life.