Questionnaires, blood tests, urinalyses, tissue typing, visits to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Hite had to undergo an extensive process before she was named a match for Paul, which she kept under wraps in the beginning.
“I just didn’t want it to be about me,” she says. “The other thing, too, is I became pretty excited about it and invested in it. I knew that it would really be sad for me if I wasn’t a match for my friend.”
Hite wasn’t disappointed. At the end of fall 2020, at the same time, she and Lee were notified that she was a match. “That was a happy day,” Hite says.
Hite remembers getting questions from others, even those close to her, about why she would want to fly to Baltimore and donate a kidney in the middle of a pandemic. Hite, who had the steadfast support of her husband, Brian, had a simple answer: “The fact is, there are people who are still suffering from kidney failure and other issues, even during a pandemic. Those things didn’t stop. And my friend still needed it.”
On April 13, 2020, Ruthie Hite and Paul Lee walked into the hospital together, hand in hand.
Hite was up first. Her kidney had to be removed and prepared before it could be given to Lee. After she went through pre-op and was being taken into surgery, she passed Lee in his hospital stall. “I remember them rolling me by Paul, and I just told him that I loved him,” Hite says. “And I gave him a ‘Go Tigers!’”
Hite’s kidney was removed through a minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, and then the kidney was flushed and put on ice. Dr. Desai would be performing the transplant. But first, he had to prepare Hite’s kidney for Lee, which was slightly more complicated than usual.
“The donor kidney had two renal arteries,” Desai says. “That happens about 10 percent of the time. In this situation, we did a back-table reconstruction of the two arteries so that we could install them as a single artery.”
Desai used what’s called a fish-mouth technique to join the side walls of the two arteries to make one common orifice at the end of them. One of the arteries was particularly small, only 3 mm in diameter.
“We brought the kidney to the recipient in the operating room and opened up the recipient to expose the vessels we were going to sew the kidney onto, the external iliac artery and external vein.”
Desai says after the kidney was sewn onto these vessels, he waited to let the blood flow and re-profuse the kidney. Once the bleeding dried up, he and his team connected the ureter from the donor, which comes with the kidney, to Lee’s bladder. “And then we closed him up,” he says.
Lee no longer sees Desai. His post-transplant care has been transferred to a nephrologist. But Lee will never forget the doctor who he says, “sat down patiently with me, would explain to me whatever dumb questions I had.” Lee remembers that the nurses who came to check on him post-surgery knew Desai had performed his transplant because his scar was so perfect.
“It’s humbling to realize that the process of transplantation lets a person live, on average, twice as long as they would have lived on dialysis,” Desai says. “In your day-to-day process, you kind of check the boxes and get your work done, but when you step back and take a 10,000-foot view of it, you realize what an honor and privilege it is to be a part of that — to be able to have that degree of impact on someone’s life.”