Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Lucky 14

(Note: I meant to post this yesterday, but I was so wiped out from an amazing weekend at the Hillside Festival. Stayed tuned for multiple reviews and comments from the festival.)

Fourteen years ago today I was in an operating room at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago receiving a life-saving kidney transplant selflessly donated to me by my mother.

It started early in Jan. 1994, when I was a 21-year-old college student. I was having severe breathing problems when my friend took me to the student health center on campus. My blood pressure was so high that the nurse could not get a proper reading, so I got a police escort to the hospital. After several tests and long hospital visits, it was determined that I had kidney failure of unknown origin (25% of all kidney failure is of unknown etiology). No one in my family had any history of kidney problems. My left kidney was a stub (completely atrophied), and my right kidney was functioning at only 20%. By the end of 1994 I would be on dialysis. I was put on a very restrictive diet to help slow the kidney failure (low sodium, low protein, low potassium, low phosphorus, low taste). I lost a ton of weight, and I was sleeping 14-16 hours a day.

Thanks to a very proactive nephrologist named Dr. Norm (can’t remember his last name), we decided to look for a family member who may be compatible as a kidney donor so I could be transplanted and avoid dialysis all together. My brother was ruled out as at the time he was too young. My dad really wanted to do it, but he had the wrong blood type. My mom turned out to be a perfect match. You can imagine my dad’s stress when both his wife and daughter were undergoing surgery. Fortunately, my aunt (my mom’s sister) took my dad out for beer and pizza between the two surgeries. When I came out of the anesthesia, other than the nurses, he is the first one I remember seeing, with tears in his eyes.

The surgery went off without a hitch, and other than a few bumps in the road here and there, I have had excellent filtration ever since.

None of this would have been possible had it not been for the generosity of my mother. She literally gave birth to me twice! I do a lot of advocacy work to promote organ and tissue donation in the US and Canada. I have a friend here in Toronto who has been waiting for a kidney for 7 years. He has completely lost the ability to urinate and has to undergo about 20 hours of dialysis a week. He can’t work and is extremely limited in what he can eat and drink. Unfortunately, he is not alone. As of today, there are over 100,000 people in the US and over 5000 people in Canada waiting for organ transplants, the vast majority of them kidneys.

What got me through this terrible period in my life (asides from my friends and family)? Music, of course. I just dug out this tape I made in 1994 called “Hospital Music.” You can imagine that as a student I had no money to buy music, and Napster didn’t yet exist. My insurance company would make me pay for a lot of things up front, and then reimburse me 6-8 weeks later. I bummed a lot of CDs off of a few friends who were really into classic rock. According to this tape (which I can’t believe that I found!), I was really into Elton John, Bob Dylan, and Crosby, Stills and Nash. The only CDs I purchased during this period were the Counting Crows August and Everything After, which will always remain one of my favorites mainly due to the timing, Peter Gabriel Us, and my brother gave me Soul Asylum Grave Dancers Union.

Organ donation is truly one of the major success stories of modern medicine. If you haven’t already, please discuss organ donation with your family!

Here is a short mix of what I was listening to in the summer of 1994, from the "Hospital Music" tape and a few other tapes that friends made for me.

1. Einstein on the Beach - Counting Crows
2. You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet - Bachman-Turner Overdrive
3. Runaway Train - Soul Asylum

4. Southern Cross - Crosby, Stills & Nash
5. Plush - Stone Temple Pilots
6. Up On Cripple Creek - The Band

7. Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town - Pearl Jam

8. Secret World - Peter Gabriel

9. Going to California - Led Zeppelin
10. Mr. Jones - Counting Crows
11. Like a Rolling Stone - Bob Dylan

12. Lithium - Nirvana

13. Mad About You - Sting
14. Leaving Las Vegas - Sheryl Crow

Zip-ity do dah!

1 comment:

Neal Das said...

Amy: What a great story. I know of the emotional ups and downs that you have gone through with renal failure. I tell you that one of the most rewarding things to me as a nephrologist is to see the smile on a face of a dialysis patient the first time they see themselves peeing again post-transplant. It's so incredible what your mother and your family have done for you. And you are to be congratulated too on doing all the right things to maintain your wonderful gift. Keep the great music coming, it helps the time go by faster around here.