I was granted an exclusive interview with Rene, during which she shared with me her transplant experience:
Jen: What was the night before surgery like for you?
Rene: I couldn't sleep, mainly because I was excited. I really wasn't as nervous as I thought I'd be. I kept thinking "Is this really happening?!" I had talked about it, dreamt of it, hoped for it...and I couldn't sleep because I was so excited.
J: So what happened the morning of surgery?
R: I was up at 4 that morning because I had to take a round of anti-rejection meds, and I hadn't been sleeping anyway, so I just stayed up. I got to the hospital just before 6:15 with Nancy, Russell, and Phillip. I was still excited and not quite nervous. They took me directly to my room on Blake [the transplant floor] and gave me my gown and stockings to put on. The nurse told me she would give me a ten minute warning before they took me to the OR. I was so tired that I just closed my eyes until about 8:45 when the nurse gave me the ten minute "warning" and then wheeled me to the OR.
The trip to the OR is still so vivid to me. They wheeled me out of my room, and Phillip, Russell, and Nancy followed me down the hallway up to a point. The person wheeling me to the OR introduced herself as "Jennifer." I immediately told her, "My donor's name is Jennifer!" That was another one of those "meant to be" moments.
Once I got to the holding bay, I decided to wait until I got into the OR to receive some Versed [anti-anxiety medication] because your mom [Jen's mom] had said the night before that she likes to go into the OR and check everything and everyone out before she gets any drugs. While I was still in the holding bay, I asked "Do you know where Jennifer Denis, my donor, is?" They replied that you were across the hall, two doors down. I still wasn't nervous at this point because all my friends and family had kept telling me that they would be saying prayers. I really felt this cloak of their energy surrounding me.
I went into the OR around 9:15 and it was very cold. When they asked me to move onto the operating table, I said "This table is so tiny! How can you operate on it?" The doctor gave me an injection of Versed, I felt relaxed, and then started to notice all the tools they would be using. Then I was given oxygen and was gone.
J: What's the next thing you remember?
R: I remember waking up and looking at the clock and saying "It's 3:15; I can't believe it's 3:15 already!"
J: Were you in any pain when you woke up?
R: I was in a lot of pain around the incision. My whole body wasn't painful, though, it felt like it was aching more than it was painful. The incision was really hurting like the dickens. Nancy, Rene's partner, commented at this point that Rene was hitting her pain pump "like she was having a bad day on Jeopardy."
The nurse came in and asked if I wanted to see my family. I didn't answer because I was still in so much pain. The nurse asked me if I wanted ten more minutes first, and I said I did. When Phillip came in, I remember seeing him try to fight back tears and Nancy kissing his head and saying "It's okay; she's going to start feeling better and better." Someone told me he hadn't eaten all day and I right away said "Phillip, I will be fine. Go and get something to eat."
The other thing I remember doing right away was asking if you were okay. Your mom came in right after I got out of surgery and said "You look so good, Rene!" I started crying and your mom told me you were doing fine and then left to go back to you.
The rest of the night I was just pretty out of it between the pain and the pain pump. Russell started joking around with me because I told him I had seen Nurse Jackie. The pain got better with meds near the end of that first night.
J: What's one really vivid memory you have from your stay in the hospital?
R: I remember I started coming to after surgery and then stopped and realized "Oh wait, I have a kidney!" I raised my gown and got really happy. Then I looked down [at the bag attached to my catheter] and I was peeing!
J: How did it feel to go home with a new kidney?
R: I felt different right away. I felt like I had so much energy even though I had just had surgery. The nurses in the hospital had a lot to tell me about the things I would need to do to stay healthy with the transplant and I kept saying "I'll do anything and everything I have to do. Nothing is too much."
J: If you had to pick a color to symbolically represent the transplant, what would it be?
R: Probably an earth-tone color because I felt so warm and nurtured by everyone. I'd also pick a periwinkle blue because people were all so happy and upbeat. I had such warm, bright, attentive, nurturing people who took care of me.
J: What was your favorite thing to eat in the hospital?
R: On the second day, I got to eat toast and it tasted like the best toast in the world! They even gave me a menu for dinner later that night and that menu was like gold. I pretty much circled everything: grilled salmon, zucchini, broccoli, mashed sweet potatoes, apple-pie, and ginger-ale. It was all really good!
J: What would you like to say to the readers of the blog?
R: First and foremost, thank you for all the support. I hope by reading the blog, you will think about becoming a living donor. I hope by listening to our story you will consider it or share our story with others. It really needs to be heard because there are so many people like me who need kidneys. The longer we languish on that list, the worse it gets for us. I'm also very happy and grateful to you, Jen. You look at the people who come back to dialysis to visit after they've had a transplant and you think "Oh my gosh, you look SO different!" You do feel different. I feel different.
J: Any special shout-outs?
R: To my partner, Nancy. She took care of me in such a loving and sweet way day and night. I love her.
Phillip truly inspires me to be strong. I look in his eyes and I want to be better and healthy for him. I love being his mom.
Team RenJen stepped up to the plate and really took care of us. Everyone needs a Team RenJen.
To Jen's family: dad, adorable Ryan, and mom. Your mom really is like the quintessential mother. I admire how she cared for you.