Nicole Harr, our Director of Community Engagement, has officially received the gift of life! Now post-transplant, Nicole is ready to share more about her time leading up to and following her surgery with the PKD community:
Four months ago, I received the gift of life from my best friend, Sue Full. Getting to transplant day was a long road for me, my family and friends. I was referred for transplant at the beginning of 2016 and so began my forever relationship with my transplant team! As I reflect on my time on the list, waiting for transplant, I realize how fortunate I was to have time; time for my evaluation, time for potential donors to be tested and time to adjust to what was to come. As my kidney function held steady over the next year, I continued to monitor my labs closely and kept all medical appointments so that when the time came, both my donor and I would be ready.
In the spring of 2018, my kidney function was clearly declining and we knew it was time to get everything in order so that surgery could be scheduled. Sue and I were evaluated again, passed with flying colors and our surgeries were scheduled for July 31. This evaluation was particularly nerve wracking because we both knew that if we didn’t pass for any reason, I would be looking at dialysis, at least for a while. We were both very aware that there were no guarantees that we would both be approved again. Getting the green light for transplant was even more emotional this time around! In the weeks leading up to surgery, I had many mixed feelings. It felt like I had been on this slow moving train for the past two and a half years and now, as we were approaching the station, the train was moving faster than ever before. I knew I was ready and that a transplant was very necessary, but I was also pretty nervous about the surgery. In addition to my family and friends, the PKD community stepped in during those last few weeks and carried me to the finish line and beyond.
The last few days before surgery are a blur to me now. I remember being very busy, getting things “ready.” That is what I do when I am overwhelmed—plan! The morning of surgery brought with it a sense of calm. I knew what I needed to do and I was ready to get it done. It was very surreal to lie in the hospital bed, ready for surgery, and chat with family and friends literally minutes before a surgeon and his team were able to save my life because of the generosity of a friend. We laughed and we shared a few tears and we all knew that all of our lives would be forever changed by the miracle of living donation.
My transplanted friends told me that I would feel better immediately after surgery. I thought they were crazy. I mean, how can you feel better when you wake up after surgery? Well, they were right. Of course, there was some pain and discomfort but I actually did feel better right away. If I had to describe how I felt in one word, I would choose “brighter.” I just felt brighter than before and ready for conversation! I won’t say recovery was easy but the pain and discomfort I felt was overshadowed by how good I was feeling. My best advice: take recovery day by day. Don’t over-do it, because if you do, you will regret it, and listen to your health care team! If I can do it, anyone can.
Since transplant day, I have had a lot of time to reflect. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for how far I have come in such a short amount of time. I think about Sue and the sacrifice she has made taking care of her kidneys until I was ready for the transplant and going through surgery so that I can have a full life. My family and I will live the rest of our lives in gratitude for this opportunity. We will treasure each day and celebrate this gift with every moment we share. I am reminded how much energy it takes to survive living with chronic illness. I remember my response when I was asked how I was feeling before surgery. I would respond, “I am feeling pretty good, just tired.” I was not feeling “pretty good.” I had adjusted to life with minimal kidney function. My new kidney has taught me that “low kidney function tired” is not the same thing as normal tired. I am now grateful for “tired” because it reminds me that tomorrow, I will not wake up tired. I will wake up refreshed and ready for whatever comes my way thanks to this new kidney!