Dana Satterlee

It has been four years since I had my transplant. It’s been four years since my dad graciously
donated his kidney to me. It’s been four years that I’ve been living this new life.
“The nephrologist said I should register for kidney donation and be put on the list”. This is what
I blurt out through tears and snot when my mom picks up on the other line. Completely in
denial but swollen and carrying 20 pounds of extra water weight my body retains, it is now
mostly in my legs and feet this time of day. The water retention has collaborated with gravity
and traveled from my face to my feet since I’ve been vertical all day at the office. I’m swollen
from steroids injections and slowly walking down 5th avenue as if both legs are in casts
because I can barely bend my knees. No one notices or stares, and this is when I am thankful
to be a ghost in a city of millions. I do not know but my mom takes action by sending out a
message to friends and family. And while I crawl into the shadows and hide myself from view,
she becomes my biggest advocate. Her knowledge in the medical field unknowingly develops
my knowledge for it and now becomes an integral part of my life, for the rest of my life. Family
from immediate to extended get their blood tested for matching and many go through the
rigorous medical testing for their safety and for mine. Each member going through testing
leaves Weill Cornell feeling fully supported, knowledgeable and safe within the donor care
team.
First day and arriving early at the dialysis center, I’d rather be home or getting treatment at the
hospital. The sweet older gentlemen sitting next to me in the waiting room pulls up his sleeve
revealing his fistula and says his ‘first surgery was awful but the second one was successful’, I
nod understandingly but I distance myself from taking his story in. I do not want a fistula
despite what every dialysis staff has told me and will continue to tell me I need to do. Still, I am
thankful he has offered me the surgeons information from the second surgery if I need it. I get
weighed on a scale as others line up behind me. This white enclosed interior could have been
a psychiatric ward if it wasn’t for the casters on the aqua vinyl 80s style recliners that snake
around like airport seating. I am brought over to the middle of this room and I wonder if it is
intentional so that I don’t feel outcasted, but it does not help. I am a lab rat trying to avert my
eyes so I don’t make contact with the residents of the recliners behind, next to, and directly in
front of me that look just as sick and helplessly hopeful as I do. The aversion doesn’t help as
my eyes well up with tears. Luckily, the two attendants connecting me to the machine that
now keeps me alive, notice the the river flowing out of my eyes and run to get mobile privacy
curtains. Five hours later I walk home from the center with a migraine that makes my eyes
squint and the dread that I’ll be back there again in two days. Several months later with Dad
tested twice, he receives the call that he has passed and we set a date for surgery.
It’s the AM rush hour on the 6 train and I’m with mom and dad heading to Weill Cornell for
surgery. I am surprised to see a classmate from grade school I haven’t seen in years, across
the tracks, but I look away. I am in no mood to reconnect even though I am excited as if it
were the last day of classes and summer is in reach. Both dad and I are swept away to our
separate rooms for preparation after we sign in. The next several steps and medical staff visits
include the experts I have met leading up to this day as part of my transplant recipient team
and this continuous compassionate care brings me comfort. I think to myself, this is what
being VIP must feel like. On the table in the OR room with the anesthesia kicking in, I fall into a
dreamless sleep.
It’s the day after surgery and my energy is back. There is pain at the site from surgery but my
scar is beautiful and I already feel physically and mentally stronger and healthier. The first meal
I crave is a parfait and I am not a huge yogurt fanatic. I wonder if it’s because it’s “the kidney
talking” as we now joke when there are things my dad does or says that I now do. The weeks
after surgery are some of my most memorable times. I watch one of the busiest cities across
the Hudson rush around as I sip my cold brew and snack on the lunch mom and I packed. I
am an observer with one job. Heal. The rush of traffic and sirens of lower Manhattan in the
distance sound like soothing white noise, the sun glistens on the water, it is peaceful and I am
hopeful.
It is a sunny comfortable day in May, one year after transplant, my “therapy” pup Biscuit, mom,
dad and I are at the panoramic summit of Giant Mountain, an Adirondack high peak. We came
here to celebrate a renewed life with this one peak in mind. Invigorated by the view, the
burning in our legs and blisters on our feet we unanimously say “why stop here”. Since then
we’ve climbed a total of 19 peaks and counting and I’ve discovered hiking a peak is very
closely linked to the concept of life with a chronic condition. There are a variety of ups, downs
and unexpected slaps in the face but it’s every step you make along the way that counts. The
size of the steps do not matter, only that you take them.
Thank you to the Weill Cornell team for your continuous care, compassion, collaboration and
drive to advancing kidney care.
DSatterlee, 2018 kidney recipient

Dana Satterlee