First, a little background; about six years ago, my sister found out that she was in need of a kidney transplant. It was just the natural thing for me to step up and offer my kidney. Unfortunately I was not a match. Fast forward to last year, I found out that she had joined the New England Program for Kidney Exchange (NEPKE) which allows a recipient to bring in a non matching donor and receive a kidney from a living donor through an exchange. On July 15th, 2009, I donated my kidney to a complete stranger and two days later my sister received a kidney as part of this exchange program. There were five donors and five recipients as part of our exchange. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and much easier than I ever imagined. Here is my journey.
If you have a loved one in need or you're just the altruistic type then this is a great way to spend a year. That's how long it took me from beginning to end but every case is different. My first step after agreeing to donate was to talk to my family to make sure that everyone was comfortable with my decision. I did some research and found out that the mortality rate is higher for gallbladder and appendix surgery than it is for kidney transplant donation. That being said I do know that any surgery carries some risk. Having a one year old at home added some weight to our decision because there is a six week recovery period after the operation and I wouldn't be able to do my share of the child rearing. Having supportive family and friends is critical.
Contact the kidney transplant coordinator at the hospital where the donation will take place. If you are doing this for a loved one then they should be able to provide you with the contact information. I would assume that any hospital that conducts kidney transplants has a coordinator. The coordinator will conduct a brief interview and give you a list of things that you will need to do to move forward. Best news is that you will be required to get a complete physical which in my case was paid for by the recipients insurance.
I found out during this process that I had mild hypertension and immediately set up an appointment with a cardiologist to get a complete workup. I even had an angiogram done, which is not required for a transplant, on the advice of my cardiologist, to make sure I was healthy. Expect lots of lab work. Blood samples, urine samples (24 hr composite urine sample are my favorite). Be sure to warn the kids that the orange jug in the fridge is your composite
I had to travel to another state to donate. If you need to do the same be sure to check out Angel Flight. They really provide a great service and help reduce your costs.
Finally and most importantly, stay focused and don't get discouraged. I made a ton of phone calls; 4 to 5 times a week to make sure everyone was doing everything they could to make it happen. Don't be afraid to speak up.