I came back to the BigD about 18 months ago, after my second transplant (from a deceased donor) stopped working. I’d had the transplant for about 3 years, which is quite a short time. A typical transplant should last 18-plus years. Mine failed early because I had a series of rejection episodes in the first weeks and months that damaged the kidney. Still, even a couple of years was great, since in addition to my new-found freedom, my new kidney immediately began to clean out the toxins that dialysis can’t, and rebuilds bones which tend to weaken over the BigD years. Having the kidney in place for even a year is a little like a reset, where your body starts again from (almost) scratch.
So what happens when the kidney begins to fail? It’s the same as when your own kidneys fail, only quicker. First I started snoring, loudly, as extra fluid gathered around my throat and nasal passages. Then at the end of each day my legs started to swell. I bought some support stockings, but it only moved the problem to the top of my knees. I was at a family Christmas in a small country town in central Queensland when the kidney stopped working completely. I filled up with fluid, became short of breath and felt miserable. All within 4 -6 weeks.
I was back on dialysis within a week, and never felt so relieved.
The only thing is that this time, my nephrologist has decided to leave the kidney in. My previous transplant was whipped out after three months because it became toxic. This time it sits quietly on my left side about 5 inches to the left and 2 down of my belly button. (All transplants are located at the front, either left or right, because it is easier to access all the required veins, arteries, ureter and such.) The operation to remove the kidney is quite a big one, and it generates antibodies that make it harder to match a new kidney. So, unless it starts to reject, it stays.
There’s a drawback: I must keep taking anti rejection drugs to stop what’s left of it from rejecting. And the side effect is that my immune system continues to be suppressed. It’s a reasonable trade off when you have a functioning kidney, but not such a good deal otherwise.
The difference in my fitness level between this time and the last is quite marked. After the first transplant was removed, I recovered and enjoyed 10 years of fit, healthy life on the BigD. After the second transplant failed, but remains in residence, I’m catching everything that floats past. One week I’m fit and healthy, jogging and pumping iron, the next week, some bug strikes me low and I can hardly get out of bed. Altogether very boring and unhealthy.
Sometimes it takes a while for the penny to drop. But when it does, it rings like a church bell. Either I stop taking the anti-rejection drugs and the kidney behaves, or out it comes!