By BASIA CHRIST
SPECIAL TO THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
It's 5:25 a.m. on Nov. 3, 2010. I'm being prepped for my altruistic kidney donation at Ronald Reagan Hospital in Los Angeles.
A nurse says, "If you want 'happy juice,' say you're nervous when the anesthesiologist arrives!"
Moments later, as if cued by the nurse, the anesthesiologist arrives.
I blurt out, "I'm nervous!"
Everyone laughs. Then he says, "OK. You get the happy juice. Count backward....
"10, 9, 8, 7... 6... 5...."
As he counts, I remember how this journey began. On Oct. 22, 2008 a friend shared her experience of donating a kidney to her husband. As she spoke, a voice challenged me, "Why not you?"
I awake in recovery.
Shari Young, my best friend, is smiling. I'm groggy and pain free (thanks, happy juice!). In the next bed, separated by curtains, I hear a nurse give a teddy bear to a child. I ask for mine, but I'm told I'm over the age limit.
My lower lip hits the floor as I whine, "I may be 64, but I still want a teddy bear!"
Shari goes to the cafeteria and returns with flowers and a bear. She tosses it to me, laughing, and says "Quit whining!"
I drift off hugging the bear.
I awake in my room. Shari stays to ensure my comfort. After she leaves, I thank God all went well. It's already dark and quiet. I'm on a morphine drip and feel no pain.
On Aug. 27, 2009, I faxed my application to UCLA Medical Center. A week later, Suzanne McGuire, UCLA transplant coordinator, said it was approved. She said, "It might take months before I find a recipient because your blood type (AB+) is rare.
She explained the tests, risks, and complications of the surgery, like blood clots, pulmonary embolism, death. I knew that the extensive testing I would undergo would show any medical problems. In that case, UCLA would not accept me as a candidate.
When people heard about my decision, one remarked I could die. Another said I was crazy. Someone asked if I would have regrets if a family member needed a kidney and I couldn't donate. I responded, "I trust my decision."
There also was a psychiatric evaluation to ensure I was of sound mind. Within a week, Suzanne confirmed it.
On Sept. 11, Dr. Rastogi, UCLA Organ Donor Program Director, asked why I decided to do this; to give my kidney to a stranger.
"I believe we're all brothers and sisters," I told him. "And I would gladly donate to my siblings."
Lying in the darkness, I wonder how someone who needs a kidney must feel waiting for the call that she will live because someone died. What if a call never comes?
A nurse interrupts my thoughts by asking, "Do you need pain killers?"
The pain is intense and increasing. I nod, "yes." I wait for the medication to work.
I remember Oct. 30, 2009, the day I lost my job.
That day, instead of feeling sad, I visited a kidney dialysis center. I saw patients covered in blankets, listening to music, reading, watching TV, sleeping. How could I feel unhappy because I was unemployed when some people depend on machines to live?
Three weeks later, I took – and passed — the stress test.
On Dec. 17, I was approved as a donor candidate, and the matching began.
One month later, I was hired at HealthBridge Children's Hospital in Orange. I disclosed my intention of donating a kidney during the interview. I had been unemployed for three months and felt that working at this rehabilitation hospital for children with catastrophic injury and illness was a godsend.
It was time to focus on losing weight. I'd been told the donation would be easier if I lost 30 pounds. I'd tried diets before, but couldn't lose that weight on my own. But on April 14 I started a weight program, and stuck to it. By June 16, I lost the weight – and kept it off.
I fall asleep remembering how long I've waited for this day.
My friend, Angel Marchetti, suggested I give my kidney a "going away party." On Oct. 31, I visited patients at HealthBridge dressed as Batwoman, then celebrated at Disneyland with Cindy Stillwagon and her boyfriend, Mark. I felt like a child again as I enjoyed the Halloween decorations and rode the rides with abandon. I had never been happier. It was like Christmas was in two days instead of my surgery!
The arrival of a breakfast of clear liquids jars me back to the present. Suzanne calls to say the recipient wants to meet me.
As we approach her room, Sushil, her husband, stands in the hall with open arms. I remember him from the waiting room yesterday. He remarks, "While she was on dialysis, her skin was grey. Now it's radiant!"
He introduces Lata. She tells me: "You gave me back my life."
They have gifts. I hold Lata's hand as I open each and thank them for their generosity. I was very moved by the love I felt from Lata and her husband. She wouldn't let go of my hand and kept looking at me with tears in her eyes. I laid my head on her hands and cried.
"Please come to Las Vegas and stay with us. I'll cook spicy Indian food," Lata says. "I'm so happy because now I can visit my family in India who I haven't seen for years because of dialysis."
In two hours, I'm discharged and my friend, Peggy Pendleton, carefully drives me back to Orange County and my own bed.
She tucks me in and I immediately fall asleep. I'm exhausted from the surgery and from not sleeping well afterward.
Once home, I'm inundated with calls and e-mail. My children, Kirsten, Elke, and Thor, send flowers and call. Friends bring bouquets, groceries, meals. I've never felt so loved by so many. Even people I hadn't heard from in years contacted me after hearing about the surgery through mutual friends. Several asked me if knowing what I know now, would I do it again? I reply, "In a heartbeat!"
Lata and I speak several times. She's doing well and thanks me repeatedly. On Nov. 17, she sends the following:
"I was in Las Vegas when I registered with UCLA for a transplant. Sushil and I wondered if we get a call, how will we make it to the hospital in time? When Suzanne called saying a live donor was willing to donate her kidney, we were ecstatic and couldn't believe it. Ever since I received this gift, I'm a renewed person. You're part of me forever and part of my family. Thank you for this extravagant, precious gift and being a wonderful lady."
My spirits are high. My strength is increasing. This experience has been magnificent. I hope to inspire others.