Karin Transplant Journey, Part 3: Day of Transplant Surgery

May 17, 2023

Karin Transplant Journey, Part 3: Day of Transplant Surgery

Today I received my new kidney, lovingly called, Croissant – Lisa. 

My sister and I were driven to the hospital at 4:30am by our parents, Ulla and Michael. We were a strong team, and my father reminded us of the many trips the four of us had taken when Lisa and I were children. Conversation on the way into NY Presbyterian was light and the sun kept rising while we were approaching the huge complex of medical buildings. 

Wearing blue paper masks, we all marched into the heart center which is where you register and wait together. My head leaned on Lisa’s shoulder when they first called her name, and she walked in bravely, together with our father. A few minutes later they called my name, and my mother and I followed.

Now followed hours of waiting with questions, IV placements, blood draws and consent signatures to get us ready for surgery that was going to take place at 8am for Lisa and three hours later for me. One of her kidneys was going to be removed and placed into my right iliac fossa (lower right abdomen/pelvis). Our surgeons were confident. Mine walked in stylishly outfitted in a suit and dress shoes, and I asked “Aren’t you dressed yet?” He answered, “I am dressed – PJs come on shortly.”

Before Lisa was given her sleeping potion, I had the opportunity to see her on the OR table and it brought tears to my eyes. Of course I had thought extensively about her gift to me, but never this concretely – this was tangible, palpable even. My little sister Lisa is going under, and being cut open, for me to survive. 

She is my hero for life. She has always been extremely loyal and stubborn. She doesn’t give up and she loves big. I know that about her, and I also know she fights hard and pushes through pain. As she was lying on that table, she was beautiful. I wish I had taken a picture. She looked serene, even happy.

Back in my cubby, my mother and I kept waiting for my turn. I slept a little, and we talked a little. It was a nice way of waiting, and I appreciated my mother’s way of distracting me yet leaving me alone when I drowsed off.

When I was rolled toward the OR, my tears started again. I thought of Liv, my family and my life. I know the likelihood of mortality in these procedures is extremely low, but any surgery poses a risk. I don’t think it was that risk that made me teary-eyed though. It was the magnitude of the event and the many consequences that were all playing out in my head that caused the tears to flow: pain, graft failure, nausea, long hospital stay, cold OR, etc, etc.

On the table a few minutes later, I was treated so well by the nurses and anesthesiologists, who all addressed me as Dr. Hehenberger and gave me both respect and empathy. The Benadryl I had been given earlier, combined with the fentanyl they now infused, put me out almost immediately. It was many hours later when I woke up in the recovery ward with a kidney that already had excreted urine on the OR table! Croissant – Lisa had come alive inside my body, and I was delirious with joy. 

I wanted to hug and kiss the world, and the doctors who came by all received my affections. Since I was lying down, I kept reaching for hands to hold and faces to smile at. My mask restricted me, but perhaps it was good to not show such a clownish smile to the world.

I am now facing four days of chemo light (thymoglobulin) and steroids as the induction therapy, while also getting my regular immune suppressants to make sure Croissant – Lisa doesn’t get rejected by my immune system. That is going to involve some side effects, such as higher blood sugars etc, but I am hoping I can keep that initial smile in my mind and push through the acute pain to eventually yield my goals, which near-term are to go home, kiss my daughter, hug my parents and other sister Anna, and toast Lisa – my hero.

Continue reading part 4 of Karin’s journey: The Gift