She’s the grateful carrier of a new kidney, compliments of her 29-year-old brother-in-law, Brandon Ricks.
“I just feel so fortunate that I received one, and honestly it was very difficult to even consider,” she said. “It’s not like a box of chocolates.”
She wants to give thanks to her family, doctors, her and her husband’s employers, and especially to Brandon, her husband’s brother, who insisted on having one of his kidneys removed so that she could get a fresh chance.
She also wants to remind people of the continual need for donor kidneys — not just from people designating donor status in the even of death, but especially from those who donate the organs while still alive and healthy. Those organs tend to last longer and work better for the recipients, and advances in medicine have made the donation process far less difficult that just a decade ago.
And, she notes, receiving a kidney from a loved one may be more stressful than giving it.
“It’s a huge, huge emotional thing to accept a kidney from somebody else,” she said. “But it’s so worth it. And I see Brandon and he’s doing fine, and I was worried about his well-being more so that my own.”
Brandon said seeing the dramatic improvement in the recipient’s life — as he saw in his sister-in-law’s — would make anyone an advocate for donation.
Lori suffers from polycystic kidney disease, which damaged her kidneys and over time reduced their function.
Now 46, she suffered her first bout with the ailment when she was 16, and doctors thought at the time she’d be fine thereafter.
But she had a stroke a few years ago, and ended up going on dialysis (at home, at night) for more than a year. She had another stroke in early 2010, delaying the transplant, which took place March 16.
She was on a five-year waiting list for a kidney had she not found a personal donor.
“Truly it was all his idea,” she said of Brandon. “He just felt like it was something he had to do.”
“It’s a really easy thing when it’s family,” Brandon said. “I didn’t even think about it.”
In, fact, he said, the doctors make donors think about it a lot, with medical tests, information and interviews.
Donors do not have to be family members, but a set of criteria determines compatibility.
Brandon described the actual surgery as not as big a deal as one might suspect. The laparoscopic process — performed at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, left only a four-inch scar. He stayed in hospital about four days and in the Seattle area for a few weeks more for follow-up care. After about five or six weeks of getting used to living with one kidney, he felt back to normal.
He may have to be careful about his health in the long term. But should he ever suffer kidney disease and require a transplant himself, as a donor he would be at the top of the recipient lists.
For Lori Ricks, the improvement was nearly immediate, as she leapt from kidneys with 8 percent function to normal function.
“She was like, running up and down the halls,” Brandon said of post-op Lori. It was amazing how fast it changed everything.”
The fight isn’t over. Lori will take drugs for the rest of her life to prevent rejection of the organ, and transplanted kidneys don’t come with a lifetime guarantee. She could need another eventually.
The overall experience has made all the Rickses advocates of donation, especially live donation, and they’d like to see both potential donors and recipients get more information.
They especially revere “anonymous” live donors — those who offer up kidneys without even knowing the potential recipients, just as blood donors give to whoever needs it.
Any surgery is scary, Brandon said, but gaining knowledge and having trust in the people involved helped. “Knowledge always overrides fear,” he said.