So a while back, I read this article about Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero, and his lifes ambition to perform the first successful human head transplant. I can’t recall when I read this, or even much about the article or good doctor himself, but I do remember that he had in fact succeeded in doing this surgery on monkeys. I’m pretty sure they didn’t survive long after surgery. While I don’t agree with using innocent animals as test subjects for ethical reasons, the fact that he’d made it as far as he had, was quite the impressive feat.
Now, what I underwent was far less exciting scientifically, in fact, its the most requested and performed of all organ donations. Kidneys. We live in a world where medical staff, can take your tissue and start creating spare organs if you should need them, while not as sci-fi as having a clone in a secluded lab for organ harvesting, still pretty weird and cool at the same time. Now, a little bit about my history and how I ended up with someone else organ in my body.
One always felt a bit unwell, but I was unable to understand why. Diabetes and high blood pressure both run in my family, so my mother made sure I was tested every year to be sure I wasn’t undiagnosed, (this is important later) years went by and I test for borderline diabetes and was told to monitor my sugar and carb intake, sure no problem. The feeling of being ill never went away, in fact as time went on I began to feel more tired, weaker than before, as well as developing terrible migraine and vision problems. By this time I was in my early twenties, and had dropped out of high school and was also dealing with bouts of depression and social anxiety, I immediately began working as a babysitter and later a full-time nanny.
It was a few months into my position with a great family with two toddlers that my appetite banished almost completely, and dropped about 30 pounds in no time at all. I put it down to being busy, I helped out a neighbor by transporting his two kids to school in the mornings, it worked out well with them going to the same middle school as my little sister, and because my mother raised us alone, I helped out with my sister as often as possible. I’d be up early, collect the two kids by 6 am when their father left for work, bring them back to my place, feed them, drop them off at school, head across town to my employees home by 7:30 am and stay until around 6 pm Monday-Friday, come home and make sure the dogs were walked, the house was clean and that dinner was cooked. And if you have children, you know being alone with two rowdy toddlers is quite the exhausting feat. All this contributed to what I thought, was just spreading myself a bit too thin.
It wasn’t until November 2012 when I got up and felt immediately quest and ended up fainting that my mother ordered me to the ER for tests. Turns out I was exhausted, dehydrated and malnourished, and get this, diabetic. I’d apparently been diabetic for years and had never been notified (horrible doctors are also important later). I was immediately given meds for diabetes control and sent to an eye doctor because apparently diabetes is the leading cause of premature blindness. And yeah, my eyes had been severely affected, to the point that my doctor said that if I had waited to come in six months later, It would have been too late, and most of my vision would have been done for good. Luckily I could save the remainder of my vision with injection in my eyes ( yes it’s as creepy as or sounds), and laser treatments.
Now, most diabetics know, that after a diagnosis, your doctor will check your kidney through blood and urine samples every three months because uncontrolled diabetes destroys your kidneys. And for months everything was fine until they just…werent. My doctor looks at me during an appointment and says that my kidney function is at 31%. That’s right 31. I’d gone from about 90 to 30 in a matter of a few months with no warning from my PCP. How was that possible? How had she missed the rapid decline? Was it even possible to have such a rapid decline? I later found out from a kidney specialist that no, it wasn’t. This was something usually when in someone older who refused to care for their health for decades, not a 23-year-old girl who had been diligently dieting and exercising to keep her glucose at just the right place. I didn’t understand how id now been screwed over by two incompetent physicians.
Over the course of the next few years, I trod carefully and take care of myself the best that I can. I’m informed I can live our my entire life with the kidney function I had left. I moved two hours from I was before, and got all new doctors who seemed to jump right into action. The new kidney specialist informed me that while my diabetes was very controlled, to the point that my levels were that of someone without diabetes, the damage to my kidneys had been so bad that I was still declining, and needed a transplant. I went into surgery the next week to have a catheter implanted in my chest, that would pull blood from an artery that leads straight to my heart, onto the tube and into a machine that would clean and filter all the gunk from my blood, the main function kidneys perform. The tube would be in for a few months until I was able to have another surgery to artificially grow the size of an artery in my arm. Needles would go directly into the artery instead of using the tube that could cause a higher risk of infection due to its proximity to the heart.
It would be almost two full years until I was wheeled into the OR for my transplant. I was lucky enough to have seven volunteers agree to be tested for a match. Even luckier than three were percent matches. Two, a mother and daughter, my cousins. A and T. When T got the call that she was the match, she immediately told the transplant center or would be her, she always knew it would be her and they didn’t even need to bother calling her daughter A, or our other cousin, also A. Six months, more tests than I can count, and four hours in an OR, and we both came out the other side. Her a little worse for wear for a little longer than she expected, and me? Well, I’m just grateful.