In recognition of National Donate Life Month, the living donor team at Massachusetts General Hospital collected reflections from a few of our previous donors about their experience and their advice for anyone who is interested to become a living donor.
An organ transplant can completely transform a recipient’s health and quality of life. However, many donors and recipients can feel hesitant leading up to the donation, unsure of what to expect before or after surgery.
Q. Tell us about your background and connection to transplant.
My husband Tim and I both work in the arts. I am a dance historian with the Boston Conservatory. Our journey to transplant happened over several years. In 2012, Tim was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease (PKD). In 2016, he began peritoneal dialysis (PD), which allowed him to continue working in a job that required him to travel.
Tim was initially rejected for transplantation surgery upon initial request. However, we pursued a second evaluation at the Mass General Transplant Center in 2019. After an evaluation, he was approved and added to the kidney transplant waitlist while I, almost immediately, started the donor evaluation process. Tim and I both underwent extensive testing and found out that we were a match.
Q. As a caregiver, what was daily life like with a loved one on dialysis? What about after transplant?
Over time, dialysis became less effective and required more of his time—and more of our time, in general. He ended up needing to transition to hemodialysis, which involved visits to a dialysis facility several days a week. The driving was a lot for both of us and we worried about the risk of infection. I found the schedule exhausting and fatiguing. I’m sure it was even harder for Tim. During this time, I remember thinking there were a lot of details to coordinate.
And then, Tim had his kidney transplant and the change was immediate. The moment he woke up, he felt better. His color was better. His energy level had improved. The fatigue that became a normal part of his life on dialysis went away. After transplant, Tim returned to his old self.
It didn’t take long for me to feel like my old self, either. A week after surgery, I took the bus and walked to my follow-up appointment at Mass General. Two weeks after surgery, I participated in faculty meetings at work. The biggest adjustment after surgery was not being able to lift heavy items for a period. I was astonished how quickly I felt well.
Q. Were there unexpected benefits of your loved one undergoing kidney transplantation?
The process absolutely makes you appreciate life more. People tell me I am generous because I donated a kidney. I feel like it was a small price to pay to get our life back—our lives as individuals and as a couple.
I felt very protected by the donor evaluation process. The living donor team at Mass General made sure I was healthy and in good condition to donate. Tim and I also realized the benefits of receiving care in a system like Mass General, where providers from different specialties know each other and work together. This approach improves care coordination and communication.
As a donor, I do not physically feel any different after my surgery and did not experience any side effects. I live a very full, active life with one kidney. Leigh Anne Dageforde, MD, MPH, was an extraordinary surgeon. Within one month, I felt like my pre-donation self completely. I found no consequence of being a kidney donor, except the positive feelings I gained from giving a gift to my husband!
As for the pain following surgery, mine was manageable and short-lasting. I do believe that being in shape before my surgery helped my recovery!
Q. Did you have any fears or concerns about kidney donation before or after surgery?
Honestly, I was less worried about myself, since I had undergone such extensive testing and work-up before being approved as a donor. I was most concerned for Tim and the possibility of the kidney failing. There was nothing I could do in that situation, except hope—and know he was in good hands at Mass General with Nahel Elias, MD, transplant surgeon!
Q. How long did it take to recover from your surgery?
I had started a new job at the Boston Conservatory just before donation, so I needed to get back to life as quickly as possible and bring my best self to my new role. The more I returned to my normal routine, the better I felt. Healthy donors can get back to full life quickly. Based on my experience in dance, the more you move your body, the better you feel!
We partner with organizations that support living kidney donation including:
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About the Transplant Center
The Massachusetts General Hospital Transplant Center offers leading-edge consultative services, treatment and surgical interventions to patients with a broad spectrum of diseases requiring heart, lung, kidney, liver, pancreas, islet, hematopoietic stem cell and multiple organ transplants.