Leander family after transplant, circa 2000

27 years later: Sheila’s living donation story

Karen HandelmanDonation Stories, Transplant News

It’s a golden anniversary for me!

On December 27th, it will be 27 years since I donated a kidney to my husband. Yes, a living kidney donor for 27 years.

in photo: (l to r) Sheila Adams-Leander (donor), Eric Leander (son), and Brian Leander (recipient). Eric was 11 years old at the time of our donation/transplant.

When we came home from a June family vacation, my husband felt like he had a cold. When he couldn’t shake it in 3 weeks, he went to the doctor. We were shocked to hear the physician say he was in kidney failure. He was born with Fabry disease and the physician predicted he might need a kidney transplant in two years.

By January, my husband was in complete renal failure and was placed on hemodialysis. He felt better on dialysis, but we needed to search for a donor kidney. He was on the waiting list for a deceased donor; most relatives declined to be tested as donors. I asked to be tested as a donor and was told not to because I was probably not a match and would be disappointed.

When the call came in that I was a match, I almost fell off my office chair! We had been married 18 years and he had married the right woman! He was reluctant to take my kidney, not wanting to put me through the pain. He struggled that spring, summer, and fall with fatigue and medication side effects. He was exhausted trying to continue working and traveling as usual.

Finally in November, he was feeling so low, I reached for humor and said, “I am giving you until early January to get the kidney transplant from me or else you have to wait until next August. I don’t want to lose a full golf season from the surgery!” That broke the atmosphere and he agreed to do the transplant.

We had the surgery on December 27th, and are truly grateful for the help given by our family and friends. The church ladies brought soup, a friend went grocery shopping, another friend drove our son for his high school exams. Immediately after the surgery, my husband felt better. Because this happened 27 years ago, I had a 14-inch incision on my left side and the pain woke me up at night. Finally it went away.

In the weeks after the transplant, my husband and I looked at each other in amazement. What had we done? It was rather overwhelming emotionally. It was mostly straightforward from a physical standpoint, but giving a living organ to another? Well, it was hard to get our heads around that.

Following the transplant, there were lots of appointments and medication changes for him. I stepped away from my busy career in nursing management, entered nursing education, and volunteered on behalf of organ and tissue donation. When I realized I’d be in academics the rest of my career, I decided to work on a PhD. It’s the calling card for a university professor.

The doctoral research dissertation is a long process in which a person identifies an area of study, reads all the literature, designs and conducts research, and ideally publishes that study. I decided to study living kidney donation since I already knew a lot about that! I decided to study Black American living kidney donors because there was little published information about this population.

My husband lived another 20 years with the kidney. Currently I am healthy, take no special meds and am on no special diet. Going past 27 years for me being a living donor, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.