By Dan Sharadin as told to Amy Wimmer Schwarb
My wife, Danna, was diagnosed a long time ago with kidney disease, specifically IgA nephropathy. The decline goes very, very gradually for a long period of time, for maybe 20 or 25 years, and then when it reaches a certain point, it falls off dramatically, all the way down to nothing.
It got to a stage where we knew we would have to do a transplant. In those situations you wait for someone who is deceased and has agreed to be an organ donor, and generally the wait can be anywhere from three to five years. The unfortunate part is that you don’t get placed on that list until you are close to kidney failure. You’ll end up on dialysis, and they know those who go on dialysis have a much higher mortality rate. It’s much better to find a live donor.
Her sister was tested and found not to be a match. Her parents weren’t in a physical shape where they could be tested. Then I was tested – and found to be a match. It wasn’t like a 1 in 1,000,000 shot – people can give their organs as a live donor to other people without being a perfect match because doctors can overcome some of the obstacles with medicines. In my case, I had enough factors that lined up that they were able to compensate for the ones that did not line up.
My wife was very upset with the idea of me donating a kidney. We have five kids. At the time we donated, they weren’t all out of the house, so she had this feeling of, ‘OK, I know what’s happening to me. What if something happens to my husband as well as me? Who’s going to care for the kids?’ She was not in favor of it at all. I said, ‘You really don’t have a choice.’ I didn’t have any hesitation. You’re giving it to somebody to save her life. I don’t want to make other people feel badly if they chose another route, but there wasn’t any hesitation in my mind.
The recovery process for the donor is always a little longer than for the recipient, who goes from 5 percent kidney function to almost back to normal. So after the surgery, my wife was feeling great. My kidney, on the other hand, was gone, and so my body was figuring out how to function with one. I was playing water polo on the masters level; I was riding my bike to work; I was fit. But during that time of recovery, there’s no way to know ahead of time how you will do because everybody is different.
I was told that if my fever spiked to 101.4, I needed to call the doctors immediately. One day my fever hit it – I called, and they told me to go to the emergency room. They did tests on me that night. When they released me, they still couldn’t figure out why my fever had spiked.
My surgeon called a week later. I thought he was going to tell me what had caused the fever. But he said, ‘No, I haven’t been able to figure that out at all. We actually found something else.’
I had a tumor on my pancreas. These types of tumors show no symptoms. They’d caught it at an early enough stage.
I think the miracle in this whole story is to know how much testing and how many people review your tests before you donate an organ. You have MRIs, CT scans, blood tests. You feel like you could be an astronaut after you’re done with that testing. For all of those people to have missed the tumor in the beginning portion of this is almost beyond believability. I was told I was quite the news story at the hospital.
But if they had seen the tumor, I would not have been able to donate my kidney to Danna.
Eventually, they removed the tumor, and they also had to take part of my spleen because it was in such close proximity. I didn’t have to go through chemo or radiation.
It’s just crazy. It really is. I’m not hesitant to say I believe it was a miracle, and I believe God had his hand all over it. From a standpoint of trying to think how this possibly could have happened, it takes a lot more faith to believe God did not have a hand in it than to believe he did.
As to the fever spike, no one was able to figure out why it occurred. Danna and I think it was a way to get a curious doctor to review my tests again.
Since the transplant and my surgery, both my wife and I are back to normal. I have one more year of tests and, if clean, they say the chance of the cancer coming back is too remote to worry about.
Danna is leading an active life again, and the joke is that her blood chemistry numbers are now better than mine. I tell her she got the better of my two kidneys.