Valley Voices

Lucia Robeson: Thank you, organ donors: My kidney transplant story

Lucia Robeson
Lucia Robeson

“You need to be seen at UCSF as soon as possible for tissue typing and testing, in order to be placed on the kidney transplant list.”

How could this happen? Sure, I knew I had less than optimal kidney function before the pregnancy. I’d checked with my nephrologist first and had been assured that my function should return to my “normal” once the baby was born.

But that wasn’t what happened. The exhaustion I had experienced during and after the pregnancy was unrelenting, even though my son was a healthy baby and slept through the night early on. I had taken2  1/2 months off (using all my sick leave and vacation), and returned to the bank in late September.

Now it was November, and my whole life had been turned upside down. Questions filled my mind:

“Will I need to go on dialysis?”

“How long will I have to remain on the list before a kidney becomes available, if it ever does?”

“If I have surgery, how will we make it on one income?”

“And finally, will my son’s first Christmas be my last?”

I was placed on the list in early January, and tried to live as routinely as possible while waiting for a call that could signify a second chance at life. I took my son for his 6-month-old pictures at a local studio.

As part of the package, I posed holding him on my lap. When I received the proofs, I decided to get a larger picture of the two of us, so my son would have something to remember me by.

I told all my fellow employees about the transplant list and how a phone call could come at any time. (This was in the years before cellphones were widely used.)

The call came while I was at a dinner meeting, six weeks later. By 8:30 p.m., my husband and I were on the way to the University of California, San Francisco. Our son had been picked up by his grandmother.

The memory of him being buckled into his car seat and driven away makes my heart ache even now. The rest of the drive to the hospital was uneventful, other than encouraging my husband to remarry should I not recover, so our son would have a mother.

We arrived at the hospital emergency room near midnight, where I was cleared by the medical team for the surgery, which would occur at 7 a.m. Surprisingly, I was able to sleep and was awakened by the nurse at 6 a.m. to prepare for the surgery. I was not fully conscious until the following day.

I remember looking at the myriad of IVs, tubing and machines to which I was tethered. The right side of my abdomen was bandaged where the surgeon had placed my transplanted kidney. I was not in a lot of pain, and definitely felt better than I had before the surgery.

People normally complain about hospital food, but nothing before had ever tasted so good! (End-stage renal disease causes a buildup of waste products in the body. Due to this, my food had tasted like metal for the better part of a year. )

Within seven days, I was released from the hospital with a paper shopping bag full of medication, and the second chance I had been praying for. My friends and co-workers at the bank where I worked had helped spearhead a voluntary program where employees could donate up to two days of their sick leave to me.

I was overwhelmed by their kindness and the fact that over 1,500 hours were accumulated on my behalf. I was able to return to work within three months, so the remaining hours went to other employees needing additional time off to deal with major illness.

My baby boy is now a 25-year-old man. The transplant works very well, and I continue to enjoy good health, all thanks to a person who took the time to register as an organ donor.

Miracles still happen in this day and age. I know. I received a miracle when I needed it the most.

Lucia Robeson of Fresno is retired from banking and healthy.

How to help

Register as an organ donor at donatelifecalifornia.org.

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