I met Liz about five years ago, but it feels like I’ve known her forever. Fashion editor by day, yogi by night, waitress on the weekends and comedian 24/7, she always adds something awesome to any situation. And she is so sweet and selfless (without being all martyr-y about it to boot!). Proof: This Sunday marks the three year anniversary of the day her father received her spare kidney. That’s why I thought she’d be the perfect candidate for my first-ever Everyday Eleanor salute, a new feature recognizing fearless folks in our midst. Liz, did you ever know that you’re my heeeeerroooo….
* * *
Hey Eleanor: Three years ago, you found yourself in a hospital gown in Tampa, prepped to hand over one of your kidneys to your dad, Michael. How’d that happen?
Liz Doyle: First things first, my dad had been sufferer of chronic bladder and kidney infections (we are talking like 25+ years) which eventually caused irreversible damage to his kidneys. He was put on dialysis (three days a week for six months, which is a brutal schedule). At that time we were told as a family that he would need a kidney transplant and that a live donor (ahem: family members) would not only be quicker, but a healthier process for the recipient with a drastic reduction in the chance of rejection. We were all urged (if we wanted) to get the beginning stages of testing started as soon as possible.
HE: I’m assuming you had to do a series of testing to figure out if you were a match. What was that like?
LD: Being based in Minneapolis (and my dad and his docs in Florida), donor organization (lifelink.com) had to send me the the materials for the initial blood tests. The first round involved me walking to the nearest phlebotomist (blood drawer, professional vampire) over my lunchbreak armed with a FedEx box full of vials. From there, I brought the box of blood to the nearest FedEx and it made its way to Florida. About two weeks later, I got a call saying I was an initial match and that I would need to get to Florida for the next round of testing.
HE: Were any of your siblings matches? How did you decided who was going to donate?
LD: Yes, they were. We discussed it a little, but it really came down to the fact that I was the first to get my stuff in, and I was a match. Other than that, it was really important for me to be able to do it. In my mind, I was the one with good health insurance, had no kids, wasn’t in school and had a job that was really really supportive of the situation (the president of our company’s wife donated to their daughter).
HE: During the months, weeks, days leading up to it, how did you physically prepare? Emotionally/mentally?
LD: I made a point to get myself in pretty good shape, working out, etc. I had heard that it was easier to bounce back for those in good physical condition. I was running a lot and doing lots of yoga. In retrospect, that is also what prepared me mentally as well and kept my stress level low.
I also had to go to Florida for the more invasive part of testing involving a day of MRI’s, CT scans, comparative scans to see which of my kidneys was the smaller and lesser functioning (interesting fact: they have to legally take that one!) They also have you meet with a psychologist to make sure you are of sound mental health to be making this decision, and that there is no familial pressure or money involved in the donation.
HE: What things scared you the most? How did you handle it?
LD: I wasn’t really all that scared until the day of. I was anxious, nervous that it wouldn’t take, but it wasn’t until the morning of surgery, sitting all alone in a weird dark hallway in the hospital, that it sunk in and I was a mess. I mean, I was totally healthy and they were going to make me sick and in pain! Mainly, I just wanted my mom there, to rub my arm and tell me that it was all going to be fine. That was until my anesthesiologist came along and gave me the sweetest antianxiety cocktail I’ve ever had. All fears flew out the window.
HE: I’ve heard recovery is often harder for the organ donor versus the recipient. What were those initial days like? How long did your recovery take?
LD: Thats how it used to be. They would basically saw the donor in half to get the kidney out. These days most are done laparoscopically, meaning a few small incisions on the belly where they put their tools and a camera. They do all the work like that before moving the kidney down to right below the my underwear line, where they made a six inch horizontal incision to take the kidney out. That part was only open for a few minutes, dramatically improving the healing time.
The first day was a blur, I was pretty much best friends with my morphine pump and spent the days watching movies on my computer. My sweet family had a rotating schedule of who was with both me and my dad throughout the day. The hospital staff doesn’t waste much time, they got me up and sitting in a chair and walking within the first 24 hours. I was at the hospital for four days, my dad for six.
The first few days at home were a little rough. The nitrous oxide (which they use to inflate the belly during surgery) began to manifest itself in little extremely painful gas bubbles in my neck. This is apparently typical, and was by far the worst part because you couldn’t do anything about it.
After that, it was pool time for the next few weeks. It almost felt like a vacation, almost.
HE: Let’s talk about scars, baby.
LD: Basically, i have four one-inch stab wounds on my stomach that are getting lighter and lighter. And one six-inch scar that hardly anyone has ever seen.
HE: They say (whoever “they” is) your body can easily function on one kidney. True? Do you feel any different?
LD: Initially, I had an empty spot. Really, a place that would feel hollow when I laughed. That was natural they said. Eventually, my kidney grew to do the work of two and my liver grew too to fill the space!
HE: How has your relationship changed with your dad?
LD: We are super close. He calls frequently to thank me, and give me his health updates.
HE: Do you find yourself being more conscious of his health/lifestyle choices?
LD: Yes, and it drives him a little nuts. But, hey….I’m invested.
HE: Best thing about giving your dad a kidney? Hardest?
LD: Best: He’s alive. Hardest: Not knowing if it would work. He’s a complicated case. In fact, my kidney is in him, upside down and backwards to work with his bionic setup.
HE: Advice to someone who might be in the same situation you were three years ago?
LD: Do it! It is the best gift you can ever give.
* * *
When she’s not being a live organ donor, Liz is kicking ass & taking names as the fashion editor at Delta Sky Magazine, Minneapolis | St. Paul Magazine and Msp Weddings. You should probably follow her on Twitter & Instagram at @TheRealLizDoyle.
I want to hear your Everyday Eleanor story. Email me at email@example.com.