Laurie's Story

 It didn't take Laurie Lee long to get back to enjoying life after donating a kidney. 

It didn't take Laurie Lee long to get back to enjoying life after donating a kidney. 

Name: Laurie Dickinson Lee
City/Town: Cary, Illinois
Current Age: 37
Occupation: Entrepreneur
Date of Donation: November 22, 2016
Hospital and Location: Northwestern Medicine, Chicago, Illinois

Did you know your recipient? 
No.

What made you decide to donate? 
Feb. 28, 2011, my dad received a life-saving liver transplant from a deceased organ donor. Waiting for that transplant was stressful for my family, and there were a lot of mixed emotions surrounding his transplant. On the one hand, my family was relieved and grateful for the one-year wait for a liver to be over. We didn’t have to worry about staying within a few hours of the hospital anymore, and we didn’t have to worry about my dad’s cancer spreading! On the other hand, there was sadness. We knew that our joy and good fortune was likely another family’s worst nightmare. Somebody had to die for my dad to get a new liver.

My dad’s liver transplant made a major impact on me. I am a person who inherently wants to give. I am a giver! My dad’s liver donor has given me more than five years (and hopefully 40 more!) with my dad. This is hands down the biggest, and most meaningful gift anybody has ever given me. The way I see it, my family took from a system that exists if and only if others give. That is why I decided to donate my kidney to a stranger. I chose to pay it forward and to continue the spirit of giving by matching the gift that my family was given.

Was it a tough decision? 
No, it wasn’t. It was just a matter of timing, and when in my life I felt I could take a two-week break away from my responsibilities.

What were your biggest concerns about donating?
Being a burden to my family during recovery, and not meeting the recipient.

How did your family and friends react when you told them you were going to donate?
My family was very supportive, a lot of friends were supportive. However, I was surprised that many people thought it was strange, and couldn’t get on board with the idea.

How did your surgery go? 
Perfectly.  I came back once a week post-surgery because my pain level was worrying me.

What was your recovery like while you were in the hospital?
I was in the hospital for less than 24 hours. The care was amazing, and the pain management was perfect. 

What was your recovery like at home?
A little harder than I had anticipated. I slept a lot, and sleep seemed to be the best medicine. I was weak and had brain fog, but it wasn’t bad. It was comparable to a drawn-out flu. I walked and walked and walked, and that seemed to help all aspects of recovery. Staying ahead of the pain was also key.

What was the most difficult part of recovery?
Pain meds made me really emotional, and I had feelings of depression and sadness. I also felt like I had a dependence on the pain pills and that was scary.

When did you return to work?
After 1.5 weeks, I went back part-time, after two weeks I was full-time. Looking back, I wish I would not have rushed back to work and had taken a solid three weeks to recuperate without worrying about work responsibilities.

How long was the process from making the first contact about donating until your surgery?
Phase 1: Time spent determining if you are a viable candidate to donate a kidney and being matched to a chain (14 hours 26 minutes over 8 1/2 months)
Phase 2: Time spent getting the transplant and staying in the hospital (36 hours)
Phase 3: Time spent recouping before returning to work (2-3 weeks)
Phase 4: Time spent getting back to “normal” (7-8 weeks from surgery day)

Is there anything about being a kidney donor that's surprised you?
I was surprised that I am the only person in a six-person chain (12 people total) who wants to meet someone in my chain. I figured at least one person would want to connect.  A year out, I still have not connected with anyone, and Northwestern Medicine says that all 11 have declined being put in communication. 

Would you do it again?
Absolutely!