Janice's Story

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Name: Janice Crago
City/Town: Cincinnati, Ohio
Current Age: 57
Occupation: Freelance writer
Date of Donation: Sept. 5, 2017
Hospital and Location: The Christ Hospital, Cincinnati, Ohio

Did you know your recipient?
I knew my recipient because we had kids the same age and served in PTA together.

What made you decide to donate?
I knew my recipient needed a kidney, but volunteering to donate wasn't on my radar. It was to help her, but honestly, it was to help me too. I'd been simmering a mid-life crisis of sorts—kids grown, living safe and small by saying "no" to pretty much anything that had me venturing out of my shrinking comfort zone. 

Realizing I was squandering precious time to live large and make the most of my life, I vowed to myself to start saying "Yes!" Wouldn't you know, donating a kidney was the first test of my resolve to keep my promise. 

Nudges about donating freakishly started showing up. Random stories about organ donation in my Facebook feed. Assignments to write four patient stories for The Christ Hospital—all about kidney donation. Another assignment to write another patient story for Johns Hopkins about an altruistic donor, whose recipient I learned after the story was published, lives a stone's throw from me. 

Those nudges chipped away at my fear. But the long list of what-ifs that would have shut it down in the past tried to chip away at my resolve (what if I, my husband, my kids need a kidney down the road, what if I die during surgery, what if there are complications during surgery, just for starters). This time I answered them with "What if none of those potential problems never happens? 

There was one what-if that sealed the deal for me: What if I don't even get tested and my recipient lives the rest of her life on dialysis, and I spend the rest of my life wondering if I could have helped her if I'd only said, "yes?" I knew I had to keep the promise I made to myself about saying "yes."

Was it a tough decision? Why or why not?
I'd say it was a pretty easy decision for me. When I saw the way everything about becoming a donor had "magically" lined up, I knew becoming a donor was what I was supposed to do. I do remember wondering at one point if I hadn't thought through my decision or the risks enough because people saw it as a much bigger deal, in terms of risks and what I was giving up than I did. For me, there was no comparison between the risk (very low) and reward (unbelievably high). 

I decided that if I made the call to get information to start the process, I was all in. That meant if I was a match, I would donate; if I wasn't, I would go into the registry to help my recipient get a kidney through paired exchange. 

What were your biggest concerns about donating?
Once I decided to start the process, I didn't worry about much. Once in a while, I'd have some nervousness about surgery (I'd never had any surgery) and the pain that goes along with it. (I'm a sissy when it comes to pain.) I felt confirmed I was doing what I was supposed to, so I felt confident there wouldn't be issues. If fear ever began to creep in, I reminded myself that I wouldn't have gotten to that point if it wasn't all going to go great, with great results. 

How did your family and friends react when you told them you were going to donate?
My husband is the biggest worrier in the family, so he was hesitant. He was honest in saying he wished I wouldn't do it but would support me fully if I decided to. My kids and other family members were totally supportive. I had one friend who told me I shouldn't do it and another who was very lukewarm and never discussed it with me during the process. Otherwise, people were behind me all the way. I was surprised with the overwhelming support from anyone and everyone, really—total strangers even offered to pray for me.

How did your surgery go? 
When I was wheeled into the operating room, the team moved quickly, and within moments, the anesthesiologist placed the mask over my mouth and nose. The next thing I knew, I was in recovery. The surgery lasted a little over three hours and went off without a hitch. 

What was your recovery like while you were in the hospital?
It went unbelievably well. Everyone told me to be ready for pain—from gas and incisions—but the pain was much less than I expected. Other donors and my donor coordinator recommended that I stay ahead of pain in the hospital by taking the narcotic pain medication. I wanted to take as little of it as possible (I had this vision of becoming addicted after two doses, and it can also make you constipated.) but was ready to take what I needed to be comfortable. I ended up taking a half dose only twice. 

They tell you that you need to eat when you take the heavy-duty pain meds to prevent nausea, but at the same time, you want to go easy on the food until your system gets going so you don't get constipated. The first thing I ate was a saltine, which I promptly threw up. After that, I could hold food down with no problem. However, I kept the menu light. 

I had a nerve block at the incision until I went home, which was awesome. I was able to sit up and move around without pain. I could have gone home after one night in the hospital, but I opted to stay a second night. I'm glad I did. 

What was your recovery like at home?
Again, more of the same—unbelievably easy. I relied on Tylenol for pain. I felt really good. 

What was the most difficult part of recovery?
Because I felt so good, it was hard for me to lay low and not do too much. I finally indulged and did some bingeing on Netflix and took a short nap each day (I'm usually not a napper.) I also exercise regularly so sticking just to walking wasn't always easy either. I took the full six weeks off of exercise though.

When did you return to work?
I went back to work after two weeks. I felt good enough that I could have gone back a few days earlier. I work from home, so that made it easier I'm sure than if I had needed to go to an office every day.

How long was the process from making the first contact about donating until your surgery?
Just a little over three months. There were no hitches or speed bumps to the process. I did need one additional test not normally required, an echocardiogram. One side of my heart was slightly enlarged, which they thought was due to my years of running (building a nice, strong heart), which the test confirmed it was. Overall the process moved along very quickly.

Is there anything about being a kidney donor that's surprised you?
I seriously considered not telling people that I was going to be a donor. I felt like it would be self-serving—"Look at this wonderful thing I'm doing!" That was the last thing I wanted to happen. I decided to talk about it though because I felt an obligation to help educate and hopefully, inspire others to become a donor too. 

The outpouring of support was surprising, humbling and life-changing for me. My experience reminded me that people love (and need) a heart-warming story. My recipient had been sharing her story and need for all most two years, including posts on Facebook and yard signs throughout our community. She's lived here all of her life and had many people pulling for her, so they were invested. 

I realized that people love the miracle of organ donation and want to be a part of it in some way. Many people won't become a donor, but they can play a huge part by offering support, prayers, cards, food, and just general cheerleading. All of those positive vibes surrounded me and my recipient with life-giving love and support that was overwhelming, and for me, unexpected. As hokey as it sounds, it was pure joy.  

Would you do it again?
If I had another spare, I'd do it again in a heartbeat. It was a privilege to be able to help. I'm so grateful I said yes!

Kidney donation requires major surgery. Fortunately, most donor surgeries today are done using a minimally invasive procedure called laparoscopy. That means a quicker recovery, less pain and a shorter hospital stay. Janice talks about her surgery to donate a kidney and what you can expect.