‘I’m a Living Kidney Donor’

Michelle Schneible and her uncle Ben (center) with family members at a party on the day before surgery.

Part two of Michele Schneible’s account of donating a kidney to her uncle.

The day before the surgery was a celebration. My parents flew in from Arizona, and my Auntie Sharon hosted a pre-surgery costume party — we all dressed like doctors in scrubs, and I presented them two huge red velvet cakes in the shape of kidneys! Note to all of you: Do not eat red velvet cake before surgery; it can freak out the hospital staff. But the party didn’t end there; it happened the morning of our surgery as well. Rush University Medical Center was so accommodating in allowing us our fun. We took pictures in our hospital gowns and silver berets, smiling for the camera in secluded dressing rooms hours before our surgeries.

From then on, I don’t remember much, to be honest, because I was given drugs to relax while I was waiting to be wheeled into surgery. I just remember the surgical staff hovering over my head, like clusters of happy floating moon faces. They were adjusting my blankets, holding my hand and telling me about how brave I was and a hero. Hero?! Knowing me, I must’ve garbled something sarcastic to say, and then it was lights out.

I was told that after the surgery was over, Dr. Edward Hollinger went to see my family in the waiting room and said to them, “She has such a fresh, young, beautiful, juicy kidney!” What sweet talk! Too bad I was passed out, because it’s not every day a 40-something woman gets such a compliment on any particular body part. And from a doctor, no less.

I woke up in my room with my family around me, they were beaming and chattering on how great Ben was doing. In fact, my kidney worked for Ben immediately. He was stable, and a healthy color came back to his face they hadn’t seen in years. It worked. We won! Success!

I felt relieved that this journey happened as we all had wished, which was a first for me. I think I was more moved than anything when I saw Richard Reyes (living donor transplant coordinator at Rush) come into my hospital room the next morning with his quirky little smile, shaking my hand, and nodding to me as a job well done, and finally with no pee cup in his hand or a vial of my blood in the other. Everyone at Rush made sure I was comfortable and managing my pain fine during my hospital stay, and I was.

June 4 of this year was the anniversary of our transplant surgery, and I must say, donor and recipient are doing just fine. From being a man who barely could move and was down to 117 pounds, Ben has gained all his weight back, he has tons of energy, he can walk a mile in 20 minutes, and he has been on vacation several times already. In fact, my kidney has been to more exotic places with Ben than it ever was with me. Ben told me he feels 15 years younger, and honestly, he looks like it too. He has a new life, one that he doesn’t take for granted.

As far as my life? I feel better than ever. It took about two months for me to fully recover mobility without pain, and if not for a few scars on my belly, you would never know I donated a kidney. I feel great both inside and out. I’m no longer that 41-year-old woman contemplating my insignificance. I’m now a 43-year-old woman who did something extraordinary! I’m a living kidney donor, for Pete’s sake!

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