Getting a kidney transplant requires much more than putting one’s name on the transplant list then arriving on time and date to have a kidney installed, along with all the necessary plumbing.
Were it so easy.
First came the decision — an easy albeit notable one in my personal history — to get my name on the transplant list.
For 14 years, my blood creatinine level — a key indicator of kidney function — had hovered between 2.5 and 3.0 milligrams per deciliter, or mg/dL. Doctors were impressed. They told me back in 1995 that I’d be on dialysis in four years, so going 14 years without much change was a notable achievement, if I can brag a bit.
Normal creatinine is 0.6 to 1.1, and a bit higher for people with only one kidney. Dialysis or a transplant becomes necessary as early as 4.0 or 5.0, with some people avoiding dialysis or a transplant until they reach 10.
But over the past two years, my creatinine level edged up unexpectedly, at first to the low 3’s and then in one dramatic leap to tickle the underbelly of 4.
Blame me for this decline in kidney function.
Last April, I’d been writing one Sunday afternoon while home alone at our farm when my blood sugar levels fell dangerously low. I’ve had type 1 diabetes for 43 years and have kept my blood-sugar levels in the normal range for 15 to 20 years. But if one is not careful, normal quickly can deteriorate into a life-threatening low.
Low sugar is typically a reading under 70, with the normal range of 70 to 100 mg/dL of glucose in the blood.
After going to the bathroom with my mind aware I needed sugar, I headed back downstairs. But by the time I reached the bottom step, I no longer had sufficient mental wherewithal to fulfill my mission and consume curative sugar. My sugar had dipped lower than 40.
The mind clicked off like a light switch.
With muddled thoughts, I plopped onto the couch and fell unconscious for four miserable hours of nightmarish images that wobbled and spiked and grew ever more aggressive and disconcerting, with a raving inner anxiety inside my diminished mind to escape this madhouse. I was the helpless captive inside this wiggly supernatural world.
But I was lucky that day.
I awakened when paramedics put me onto a stretcher after injecting me full of dextrose. I was so happy to escape Wobbly World. That day I’d had plans with daughter Georgia to return her to Penn State Beaver. When I failed to arrive to pick her up and she couldn’t reach me by phone, she borrowed my other daughter’s car and drove home with full knowledge my sugar likely was whacky.
Finding me slumped on the couch, she dialed 911 and stood outside to direct paramedics from the Fort Cherry Ambulance Service (its garage is pictured below) inside our house. They rushed me to Canonsburg Hospital where my body temperature had dropped to the low 90s. I couldn’t quit shivering. They wrapped me in a bubble with a heater blowing air inside
The lesson here: While high blood sugar eventually can kill, hypoglycemia — the technical name for low blood sugar — can be deadly in hours, even minutes.
Had we not had plans to drive Georgia back to school, one can only speculate on the results.
That day marked the worst case of low-blood sugar I’d ever experienced, and I paid a dear price with kidney damage.
Within a month afterward, my creatinine level rose from the low 3’s to 3.9, dropping overall kidney function to 16 percent, which is getting close to the precipice.
Dr. Cynthia West, my nephrologist with Teredesai McCann & Associates P.C. told me that people can face dialysis at 15 percent function. To qualify for a transplant, a person must be below 20-percent kidney function.
While I’ve had success in stabilizing kidney function over the years, I felt I was close enough to Ground Zero — and dialysis — to prepare myself for a transplant.
So I made the decision easily. Time to get on the waiting list for a transplant.
And pass me some grape juice.