I'm now considered a frequent flyer at the UPMC Thomas E. Starzl Transplant Institute, where I've now been summoned for the eighth time for a kidney-pancreas transplant, seven times without results.
But the eighth time could be the charm.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I'm not complaining.
In fact, while I was writing this blog, I got the call advising me to be prepared to return to the hospital early Friday evening for organs from a 15-year-old donor from West Virginia who died from a stroke.
This is a long process for the transplant recipient because it requires getting on the list then waiting your turn, typically for a year and sometimes multiple years. Then when you are called it, you must wait for hours, sometimes a full day, before results are known about the condition of the organs, specifically the pancreas, and whether they can be used or not.
Then the question is whether you are the primary candidate or a backup.
This week I experienced all these factors.
Monday night I received a call from UPMC just before midnight to inform me I was seventh on the list for a pancreas and kidney but first on UPMC's list. Those ahead of me all were patients at Allegheny General Hospital.
At 11 a.m. Tuesday, I was called with details to be at the hospital between 1 and 2 p.m. The prospects looked optimal although the circumstances were tragic: A 20 year old had died in Johnstown from head trauma.
As it turns out, I was low the list of candidates. But those ahead of me were patients at Allegheny General Hospital, so I should be ready as a backup just in case AGH rejects the organs.
I was admitted to the hospital at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday and proceeded to have blood work, a chest x-ray, an electrocardiogram and an I.V. inserted into my wrist, then proceeded to wait for 20 hours while the organs were "harvested," as they say, and decisions were finalized as to which hospital would receive them.
It wasn't clear until about 10 a.m. Wed. — 20 hours after my arrival at the hospital — that Allegheny General finally had accepted the organs.
I went home.
But it wasn't that easy. I had been on an IV all night, and I felt so weak once I began leaving the hospital that I could barely walk. At first, I thought my blood sugar was low, but that proved not to be the case when it tested in the normal range.
Still, my wife and I ate lunch, and I drank some fluids and felt better, but still felt weak. I went home, took a nap and then called my daughter Abbie, who is a family-practice M.D., who listened to my symptoms and diagnosed me of be suffering from dehydration. It made sense. I'm on a diuretic due to kidney function and only had a slow-dripping I.V. as sole source of fluids for nearly 24 hours.
I drank a lot of water and began feeling better.
The next afternoon — Thursday — I received another call from UPMC informing me I was the primary candidate for a kidney and pancreas from a 30-year-old who had a history of drug and alcohol abuse. The pancreas was not likely to be of good quality to be transplanted.
Still, at 5:45 p.m., they asked that I show up at UPMC Montefiore by 7 p.m.
That evening I was in a hospital bed awaiting the transplants yet again, which meant giving up 10 vials of blood (as compared with 16 vials two days earlier). I received another EKG and another chest x-ray.
And right before the nurse came to my room to put in another IV in preparation for surgery, the transplant doctor arrived to inform me that the pancreas had been rejected.
I went home at 11:30 p.m.
But then at 2 p.m. Friday, I received yet another call from UPMC — the third in a week — and they informed me I was first on the list to receive transplants from a 15-year-old West Virginian who had died of a stroke. The organs sounded promising, again with humble regard for the tragedy that made them available.
So now I's sitting at work awaiting instructions on when to arrive at the hospital for the eighth time. Hopes are high that my eighth visit will bring success.
And what might sound like an ordeal really is part of a complex process of fair distribution of organs. When I even begin thinking it's an ordeal I remind myself that these transplants will cure two disease — type 1 diabetes that I've had for 44 years and kidney disease that I've had for 25 to 30 years.
Then any thoughts of ordeal evaporate as my attentions turn to welcoming the incredible opportunity.