Pictured: Nina (left), Diane (center), Tina (right)
In 1982 the chances of having twins was three per 1,000 births. I’m one of those three. The number of babies born with Down syndrome each year? One in 6,000. My little sister, Diane, is one them. The number of living kidney donations estimated to be completed in 2018? Nearly 6,000. We are one of them.
Five weeks ago, on July 31, my little sister, Diane and I checked into Phoenix’s Mayo Clinic Hospital for a life altering surgery. She was going to receive my left kidney. As we waited for them to take us back Diane and I gave each other high-fives. Diane is non-verbal and often, even walking through Costco, will walk up to people and put her hand out for a high-five. She sat in the waiting room chair proudly showing off her favorite blanket – which is covered in photos of my twin sister’s dog, Piglet. At 34 years old my sister was on the cusp of needing to begin dialysis due to an auto-immune disease that viciously attacked both her kidneys. Being special needs it would have been a very difficult and troublesome path for her to take.
Upon finding out Diane’s only alternative to dialysis was a kidney transplant Nina and I quickly set out to begin testing to be her donor. I went first. It was five days of blood tests and both physical and psychological evaluations. We matched. I was able to share the news with my parents on June 14 when a committee made up her recipient care team and my donor care team approved. Even better news? I could donate to her directly since our ages aligned – I’m 20 months older.
As we sat waiting to be called back to surgery I was overwhelmed with the joy that my sister brings me. Something as simple as giving high-fives, in a unfamiliar place, was making her smile as she was unaware of what was to come next. Dressed for surgery and holding my IV I walked to Diane’s bedside to give her one final kiss. She looked at me in surprise that she wasn’t the only one dressed in purple. After saying goodbye and a nice dose of meds for pre-surgery calmness, I was wheeled back 30 minutes prior to Diane. The surgery itself took about two hours in total. After my kidney was “installed” in Diane it quickly took action and her labs began to improve.
In the days that followed I was quite swollen, sore and sleepy from the pain medication and my body is now learning to function with just one kidney. Would I do it all over again? In a heartbeat! I only have one kidney left so I can’t however, my twin knows she’s next up if I, or Diane, ever needs her spare. Diane is doing well and is back to eating all her favorite foods and doing her favorite activities, playing with Legos and going to the movies.
– Tina Swail, vice president – operations