The Rest of the Story – Part I

I’m sure you have seen the numerous ad campaigns for organ donation.  Donating ones organs is a truly selfless act that has the potential to save multiple lives.  Even though no one wants to think about their own mortality donating your organs is an option.  The Organ Donor Program helps save 1,000s of lives every day.

Please don’t misunderstand what I am about to tell you.  I believe the Organ Donor Program is fantasitic.  There is just so much more to organ donation and the organ recipient’s journey than what you hear in the public service announcements that I would like to share with you. I want to tell you what it’s like for the organ recipient after the transplant is performed.

You’re probably asking yourself, why should I listen to what she has to say?  What could she possibly tell me that I haven’t already heard?

I experienced it first-hand when I received a liver transplant in 1998 from a cadaver donor.

According to UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) there were 112,706 people waiting for an organ transplant as of Oct. 28, 2011 at 8:07 pm.  Compare that to the 16,416 actual transplants performed between January and July of 2011.  That means less than 20% of the people on the list will actually receive a transplant and that is exactly what my doctor told me when I was given the news that I needed a liver.

There isn’t always a ‘happy ever after’ when you receive a transplant.

If you are one of the lucky <20% (like I was) it doesn’t mean your crisis is over.  Of the people who receive organ transplants another 20% of those organs will be rejected by the recipient’s bodies.  This can happen for various reasons, but the end results are the same, you will slowly die unless another donor organ can be found in time, something that very rarely happens.

A transplant is not an instant cure that leaves the patient with no more problems.

I was lucky, my liver was not rejected.  After the surgery, I was given huge doses of steroids to lower my immune system and reduce the possibility of rejection.  The steroids cause a lot of side effects such as swelling and reduced muscle function of the legs.  I literally swelled so much that I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror.  My thigh muscles were so severely weakened that I couldn’t step-up more than one inch.  I had to do therapy for 2 ½ months to get my muscle tone and endurance back.

Although the immunosuppressant medications are necessary for the rest of my life to prevent rejection of the liver, these medications come with side effect causing me to take more medications to combat them.  I currently take 27 pills per day most of which are for problems caused by the transplant meds.

°         Increased blood pressure

°         Increased cholesterol levels

°         Increased risk of skin cancer

°         Sleep disturbance

°         Depression/Anxiety

°         Increase bleeding and bruising

°         Numbness and trembling of the hands

°         Nausea/Loss of appetite

°         Increased hair growth

°         High potassium levels

°         Low magnesium levels

Aside from the side effects the medication, the med levels must be monitored with frequent lab work. Doctor’s must adjust the medication levels often to prevent such problems as kidney damage.  I have had my transplant for 13 years and still require lab work every 4 weeks for monitoring.  That is why many patients have a portacath.  The repeated needle sticks causes blood vessels to scar so heavily they cannot be used.  My port was surgically inserted in 1997, while I was still on the transplant list.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful or depressing.  I am very thankful to the person who donated their liver so that I could live.  I think about them almost every day, especially the trauma the family experienced loosing their loved one.

There are still more complications that can occur after a transplant that I will explain in a later post. I would love to hear from other transplant patients about their personal experiences. Also, send your questions and comments.


The Cast Out

Last winter my grandson came running into the house in a panic.  He was saying, “Bring cat food!  Bring cat food!”  I had to calm him down to figure out what was actually going on and finally discovered that a stray cat had appeared in our garage.

I grabbed my coat and the food and headed out to check the situation out.  When I got there my son met me.  He said a starving cat had just walked up to him out of nowhere.  I peered around my husband to get a look at the cat that had grabbed everyone’s attention.  What I saw was appalling.

The cat had long hair, which I guessed as being white.  It was tangled and matted.  I quickly placed the cat food on the cement floor and it ate it greedily.  It wasn’t scared of me at all.  This was not a feral cat; it had obviously belonged to someone.  Although the cat was full-grown, it weighted next to nothing and I could feel every bone in its body.  Its flat little face was dirty with tear staining like many Persian cats, but it had one remarkable trait, its eyes.

I picked-up the cat to examine it more closely and it (she) looked up at me with the most beautiful light blue eyes I have ever seen.  I fell in love instantly.

I knew immediately that I had to nurse this adorable creature back to health.  (Yes, as a child I brought home all the wounded animals and cared for them.)  My husband, already expecting me to help, decided to name her Mattie, because her hair was so matted.

As days went by, I soon discovered that Mattie had a severe case of ear mites, which resulted in an ear surgery for a hematoma.  She had one broken incisor and flea dermatitis.  I also discovered that her front feet had been declawed and she had been spayed.

Mattie today

Nearly a year later, Mattie is the most loving little girl.  It is obvious that someone loved this cat at some time, she was a well cared for house cat that was declawed.  She loves nothing more than to lie in your lap and sleep contently.  How can a person be so heartless as to put this animal out to fend for herself without claws to defend her?

But Mattie is just one lost animal.  According to the ASPCA web site there are 5 to 7 million companion animals entering animal shelters nationwide annually.   At least 20 percent of cats are acquired as strays. (Source: NCPPSP) Many strays are lost pets that were not kept properly indoors or provided with identification.

In Mattie’s case I couldn’t find her owner and adopted her myself.  My plea to anyone with an animal they can no longer care for or their home can’t accommodate; take them to a shelter that can find them a new loving home.  A no-kill shelter is the best choice.  Do not put them out on the street to be injured, abused, or starve.

Chances are your local community has an animal shelter or some type of pet rescue.  These organizations can always use donations and most are non-profit organization that survive solely on donations, whether it is money, time, or supplies.  If you are looking for a way to serve your community, try volunteering at a local animal shelter.

If you are looking for a new pet try your local animal shelter first.  You may be surprised that many rescued animals are pure bred and many shelters have low adoption fees for sponsored animals.  Many times those fees include the basic shots and spay/neutering.  To find a new forever friend check out Pet Finders.

The Top 6 Reasons I Love Living in the Country

I love living in the country.   I spent my childhood on a farm and even though it was hard work I wouldn’t change the memories for the world.  I suppose the saying is true, “You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.”  I guess that’s why I moved back to the farm when I grew up and married.

Reason #1: You can grow your own food.  I like to plant vegetables and flowers then watch them grow.  It allows me to preserve some of    my own food and I can decorate my house with fresh-cut flowers if I want.

Reason #2: There are no street lights.  It is so dark you can see the stars.  When you look up it feels like you can see the whole universe from your back yard.

Reason #3: You can go for a walk in the woods.  It’s a great stress reliever plus you get exercise.  Who knows you might see a deer, a turkey, or a squirrel or two.

Reason #4: I love the sounds of nature.  You can listen to the birds singing, the frogs croaking, and the crickets chirping.  Nature has its own soundtrack.

Reason #5: The homes are farther apart.  You feel like you have more privacy.  Even if you can see your neighbor house it isn’t as close as it would be in the city.  You have room to breathe.

Reason #6: You know your neighbors.  You may even know their parents and grandparents.  When something bad happens your neighbors are the first ones there to lend a helping hand.

I feel like country life is more pleasant and peaceful.  I realize that everyone will not agree with me, but that’s OK.  Everyone has their own preference.  There are people who love city life as much as I love country life.  Which do you prefer?