Interviewed by Simi Juriasingani, Katarina Zorcic and Noah Varghese
Lesley Latchford’s father was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease in 2003. By 2012, it was clear that he would need a transplant eventually. Lesley donated one of her kidneys to her father in February 2017. We recently had the opportunity to speak with her about her experience.
Could you describe your father’s experience with kidney disease leading up to the transplant?
Lesley: In 2003, it was discovered that his kidneys were failing. The doctors didn’t know what caused his condition. They weren’t sure if it was due to an untreated infection. He was also diagnosed with high blood pressure at the time and they weren’t sure if that had caused his kidney condition or vice-versa. The disease progressed quite slowly for him from 2003 to 2016. He used to get his blood levels checked frequently. He would go to his appointments and my mom would call us and say that he’s ok and that he’ll go back in 3 months. This went on for many years. In 2012, he was told that he would eventually need a transplant. In early 2017, he went on dialysis for about six weeks and that was partly because of the angiogram test that was required for the workup leading up to the transplant. His creatinine levels were high at that point, but he was functioning well, so he didn’t need dialysis up until then. He was able to work up until the day before the transplant.
What steps did you have to take when you decided that you would be willing to donate your kidney to your father? Did anyone else in your family get tested?
Lesley: When we started thinking about the transplant, my younger sister decided not to pursue testing because she was hoping to have another child at that point. Myself and my uncle, my dad’s brother-in-law, got tested and there were also potential anonymous donors being tested through the transplant coordinators. In March of 2016, I started going through the process of being worked up to see if I would be a suitable match. They wanted to get started on finding potential donors, even though the need for a transplant wasn’t imminent, so that we were prepared if the surgery suddenly became necessary. So, I filled out the paperwork. There were several blood tests. I also did a 24 hour urinalysis test.
The living donor coordinator, Beth, walked me through the whole process, start to finish. I also met with a nephrologist at the kidney clinic at Westmount Mall in London. There was a PowerPoint presentation they went through and it talked about the risks involved with kidney donation, what the actual day of the surgery looks like, and the paired donor program. If you’re not a match for your loved one, then you can donate to somebody else, and then somebody else would donate to your loved one. They also talked about consent, withdrawing your desire to donate.
Following that, there were more tests at the hospital to make sure you’re healthy enough to donate, including an ultrasound, chest X-ray, and an echocardiogram among others. There is a lot of bloodwork done throughout the process to make sure that your levels are good. The other appointment I had was with the social worker. They make sure that you’re not being persuaded or encouraged by someone to make this donation. They have to make sure that you’re psychologically in the right place to donate and understand the risks. About a week before the surgery, I remember meeting with the surgeon to discuss how the day of the surgery would unfold. There were a lot of appointments.
How did you feel when you found out that your kidney would be a suitable match for your father?
Lesley: Well, I was obviously happy that there was an end in sight. I was just happy that everything worked out the way it did. He didn’t have to be on dialysis for too long, and he didn’t have to take time off from work. I was just glad that we were able to move forward with this.
I never considered myself a hero. It’s more like, “No, why wouldn’t you? If you can save somebody’s life, why wouldn’t you do it?” That’s my perspective. Not everybody thinks that way, but that’s what I thought.
Were you at all concerned about the surgery itself, or did you feel satisfied with the explanations and all the processes you’d gone through with healthcare professionals?
Lesley: The only surgery I’ve ever had prior to that was two C-sections and my recovery with those was pretty easy. I had never been put under anaesthesia completely. I was never afraid or stressed. It was more like I just wanted to get it over with. I was curious about what it was like to be completely put out because I’d never experienced that. I never really thought about the after and how I would feel and how much pain I might potentially be in. I was more focused on hoping that it would be successful for my dad as opposed to how it would impact me.
How would you say your recovery experience was like after the surgery?
Lesley: My recovery wasn’t great. I just thought, “Okay, I’m going to have surgery and everything will be great.” Well, no, that’s not how it went. My recovery was very painful. I was in the hospital for four days.
I had a lot of pain, like gas pain from the gas they inject into you to do the surgery. The surgery was five and a half hours long. Then because of the way they position you, I had a lot of positional pain. That was really, really tough. Then I’d say the first week home, because I was trying to come off the pain medicines and everything, I had a lot of gastrointestinal issues, which was horrible. But by the end of the second week, I was feeling much better. I just had to get all those drugs out of my system and eat a little bit more. My kids were in kindergarten and grade 2 at the time, so my husband were a huge help when I got home.
I didn’t anticipate the recovery to be like that because I had seen pictures of people after surgery, after donation surgery, with the person they donated their kidney to and they looked great. They looked happy, and I was like, “Oh, okay. This doesn’t look so bad.” I didn’t even see my dad until three days after my surgery because I was just in too much pain.
Now, my dad, on the other hand, was great. He felt so good. He was eating well and his pain was under control. His recovery was much easier than mine. I would say that within a couple of weeks, I was feeling better. I was off from work for eight weeks. I think after 8 or 10 weeks, I started going back to the gym and resuming normal life again.
What was your experience like with the incision, considering that you’d had a C-section before? Did you have a laparoscopic surgery or was there an abdominal incision that’s a bit bigger to get your kidney out?
Lesley: Yes, so it was laparoscopic procedure. They just opened up my C-section scar to take the kidney out rather than doing a fourth incision, so I really can’t see any of the scarring. That was good. At least it was laparoscopic and they didn’t have to open me up. I was happy about that.
Was your father able to regain kidney function and health fairly quickly? Did he have any ill effects after the transplant?
Lesley: Not really. They really keep a close eye on them post-surgery, so he was seen in the clinic three days after and then a week, every week for so long. They really keep a close eye on them and their bloodwork. He did develop an infection. I’m not sure what it’s called, but it was one that is quite common. It can be destructive to the kidney, but his body was able to fight that and there was no damage done or anything like that.
Now, he obviously had more restrictions post-op than I did. I couldn’t lift anything for eight weeks, but he was like four months. His recovery was pretty good. He was doing probably more than he should have. He’s a tool and dye maker, so he was back to work within four months, but limited in what he could really, or should have really been doing. He felt great. The kidney worked almost immediately after it was transplanted and he’s been great ever since.
Apart from the annual testing, do you still feel any impacts from the surgery itself or the incision in your day-to-day life?
Lesley: No. I donated my kidney in February 2017 and then the following July, I had my gallbladder removed. I don’t feel the impact from any of it, to be honest.
The only thing I have to do yearly is bloodwork and a urine test, just to make sure my creatinine is stable and not going too high, which it hasn’t.
Read about the rest of Lesley’s journey in Part 2!