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A Journey Through Kidney Donation Part 3, Transplantvania
Lisa Hetzel and her cousin Denise after the surgey.

When writer and teacher Lisa Hetzel heard her cousin Denise, was suffering from Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) and needed a kidney transplant, she took the step forward to see if she could be a match. This is the multi-part story of her journey through kidney donation.


Finally, the day of the transplant arrived. My cousin, Denise, and her husband, Peter, had to drop me off in the Massachusetts General’s donor section before they headed off to the recipient wing.  When the nurse called me for pre-op, I reached for Denise. As we hugged goodbye, I trembled. Denise whispered, “Thank you for doing this.” I replied, “Thank you for letting me.” 

This journey to donation had taken six months. From the very beginning, Denise and I had been coached and supported by an incredible community. Beginning with my evaluation in July, we had our own team of specialists. We had been tested from head to toe. Our family, friends and faith community showered us with encouragement and prayers. My own school, Barksdale Elementary, joined in the excitement and surprised me with a basket full of goodies. They had lovingly thought about the things that I would need after I returned to Georgia. My best friend, Myra Welch, had already planned to be my taxi driver and chef when I landed in January. I met fellow kidney donors through a walk for PKD (Polycystic Kidney Disease). They invited me to join their Facebook group and gave valuable tips. Through them, I learned about a nonprofit called the Living Kidney Donor Network ( Their founder, Harvey Mysel, was a two time kidney recipient. He had been a huge support as I prepared for the donation day. 

However, nothing quite prepared me for the rush of emotions as they rolled me into the transplant department. It was so joyful. Everyone that helped me get ready was excited about the procedure. It was almost like being in the labor department (minus, of course, the contractions). For the next few days, I entered what seemed like a transplant town. The name Transplantvania came to mind as they connected me to wires and gizmos. Peace rolled over me as I fell asleep.

When I woke up, I tried to sit up. I had to get to Denise. I was sure that the transplant hadn’t started and that something was wrong. Nurses surrounded me and reassured me that the procedure was done. Denise was fine. Her brand new kidney was working. Reluctantly, I fell back asleep.

When I woke again, I was in my room on the transplant floor. I was disoriented and wanted to see Denise. The nurse was so patient as she reassured me that I could see Denise the next morning. 

Many people came through the door that night. I remember Denise’s husband bringing me a phone so that I could call my son. It was so good to hear his voice. I hadn’t seen him since before heading to Boston. 

Peter, gave me updates. Denise’s room and mine backed up to each other. My goal was to start getting clear headed so I could start walking. I wanted to see her.

I don’t remember feeling much pain. I do remember being able to get help anytime that I needed it. The transplant floor has a ratio of one nurse to every two patients. Talk about feeling like royalty. 

Denise is one of five children. Two of her brothers and their wives spent time between Denise’s room and mine. They were my eyes and ears until I could see her. They tell me that I was a little “loopy” as the pain medication did its magic. They brought me a pretty little turquoise box wrapped with a white silk bow. It said Tiffany’s. Inside was a beautiful silver necklace with a bean shaped pendant. They had given one to Denise, as well. 

The next morning, I felt clearer. Nurses helped me stand and start to walk. I held on to someone’s arm as I headed to Denise’s room. She was beaming. I plopped in the chair beside her and breathed a sigh of relief. The transplant was a success. 

Stay tuned to next week’s installment - After the Transplant.