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In 24 Hours, She Donated Her Kidney and Saved Her Dad’s Life

The decision to donate her kidney to her father came easy to Lillian Santiago and a minimally invasive robotic surgery dramatically improved her recovery.

After two years of watching her dad go through three-and-a-half hours of kidney dialysis daily, Lillian Santiago was tired of seeing him struggle. She decided it was time to see if she was a match to donate her kidney. And she was.

Lillian began the process of donating her kidney. Weekly blood drawings, urine tests, and a battery of others confirmed that she was an ideal candidate to be a live donor—and that she was mentally prepared to do so. On June 24, 2021, Lillian underwent a nephrectomy (kidney removal surgery), but unlike traditional surgery, Dr. Ashesh Shah performed the procedure robotically.

Deciding on a Robotic Surgery

Dr. Shah, surgical director of the kidney transplant program, says that robotic surgeries allow for smaller, less invasive incisions and shorter recovery times. While this was his first time performing a live donor nephrectomy using robotic surgery, he has used it for many liver surgeries. As technology advances, newer robotics include increased dexterity, allowing surgeons to perform more complex operations in even more minimally invasive ways. While this technology is still new, Dr. Shah predicts that single-arm robots will one day be the norm for live donor surgeries. Using this technology meant that Lillian would need just three small incisions, each about a centimeter long.

Dr. Shah said that a robotic surgery meant that I would be in less pain when I woke up from the procedure. That’s all I needed to know when deciding if a robotic surgery was right for me.

Healing From Surgery

Dr. Shah typically performs surgeries in the morning, and he visits all his patients at the end of the day to see how they are recovering. “When I went to visit Lillian before leaving the office, she asked if she could go home.” Lillian ended up leaving the hospital 24 hours post-surgery. When asked how her recovery has been, Lillian says she feels as if she hasn’t gone through anything. “I feel like myself. The incisions on my stomach healed up great. It doesn’t even look like I went through surgery.”

Lillian’s father had a longer, more difficult recovery time in the hospital. She felt guilty for being able to leave the hospital the following day but said, “as of now, he’s made a complete 360, and he is doing amazing.”

When asked what Lillian would say to someone considering becoming a live donor, she says, “it’s an amazing gift that you can give to somebody. People need to be more educated about it because they can help. After all, they’re walking around with an extra kidney, so why not?”

[Editor’s Note: For more information on becoming a live donor, visit the Jefferson Transplant Institute.]

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Patient Perspectives