Welcome to another Kidney Month inspired post by a wonderful woman who gave her kidney up to save a stranger’s life.
I know that I am not that selfless.
Not for a stranger.
One of The Dudes, Dumb Dad, Mimi, Papa, Bruncle, even BFF, no doubt.
But a stranger?
No. I don;t think I could give my kidney to a stranger.
Well, I guess I probably would give up one of mine for a stranger seeing how they are on a slow march to being useless anyway, but you know, not if they were good.
I’d like to sit here and tell you all that I would; that I’m really that awesome of a human, but I’m pretty sure that I’m not.
I’m too much of a coward for anything like that.
I mean, I don’t even give blood for crying out loud!
The needles. And the pain. And the time. And, and, and stuff.
But, I do have one of those little sticky thingys on my driver’s license that says, “Should Dumb Mom get smashed by a bus, feel free to cut up what’s left of her and give it to the highest bidder,
for cash. Cold. Hard. Do-you-want-this-colon-or-not? cash.”
That I can do.
Not so much.
Contributed by Kidney Mama
I got a survey in the mail this week from the National Living Donor Assistance Center asking me about why I decided to donate a kidney last year.
It wasn’t a family obligation, and it wasn’t a matter of religious conviction. The choices on their survey that came closest were about moral obligation and the simple logic of living donors as a way to ease the kidney donation shortfall.
Before I considered donating my kidney to a stranger, I had always thought that if someone I loved needed a kidney, I would be tested. Once I learned how low-risk kidney donation surgery was, and that people live very well with just one kidney, I thought, “I could do that. I am healthy and unafraid, and I should do that!”
So I started on my quest. I found a living donor in my community and a few on the Internet and asked lots of questions. I asked one of them to help me find a recipient, because I really wanted to know the person so that I could be sure he or she would be able to make good use of it for a very long time.
I decided to get tested for a 45-year-old man who was active in his community, advocating for the poor and elderly. We talked on the phone just once before I found myself in a really interesting position.
We had gone to our respective doctors to get blood drawn so that his transplant center could perform the first round of compatibility testing. Interestingly, the transplant center called me to tell me we were compatible.
I said, “Did you tell Anthony? What did he say?”
“Oh, we can’t tell him. It’s your private medical information,” they said. “We can fax you a release, and then once you return it, we can tell him. Or you can tell him.”
I couldn’t pass up that opportunity. I looked in my cell phone for Anthony’s number and called him.
“I have news,” I said. “We match!”
“So let’s do this,” I said, hoping to get him to say something.
“Anthony, are you there?” I asked, thinking that maybe my cell phone had dropped the call.
“I’m here,” he said.
“I hope you know … I think you know … I hope you know … I hope you know what this means to me,” he said.
I told him that although I couldn’t know what he was feeling, I was really excited about this adventure we were about to have.
And an adventure it was. I had more medical tests in the next several weeks than any person is entitled to have. Some made me laugh; some made me squeamish. I didn’t think that when they asked me to collect my urine for 24 hours, it would be a gallon and a half. Or that I’d have to keep it in my refrigerator.
At any rate, with the test results in hand, my doctor and I felt confident that I was in excellent health, and I felt very confident in my decision to donate.
Meanwhile, my friends objected strenuously to the whole idea, and everyone kept asking me if I was afraid. Truthfully, I never was. I felt certain that everything would go well, that somehow, my good intentions would create a positive outcome.
Good intentions got me nowhere with the transplant staff, however, who viewed a stranger donation as, well, strange. But they satisfied themselves that I was not crazy and was not being paid to give, either of which would have disqualified me under their rules. (My opinion: There is no bad reason to donate a kidney and save someone’s life.)
Clearing all the paperwork hurdles had brought Anthony and me closer, and by the time the surgery arrived, it was as though we were partners on a complicated project that was finally coming to fruition.
At 5:30 a.m. on Thursday, June 25, 2009, we met at the hospital to begin pre-surgical tests. We were both beaming. By 8 a.m., we were in the OR, and by 3 p.m., we’d each pestered enough nurses to learn that the other was doing great.
Anthony’s recovery began immediately. His surgeon told me my kidney was, um, producing before they’d finished closing the last incision. Something about a racehorse.
I visited Anthony as I was about to be discharged, and though it had been just over 24 hours since the surgery, he looked and felt 100% better.
He’s continued to improve over the six months or so since his transplant and has been able to travel to see family and friends for the first time in years. I have a clean bill of health, and only a few tiny scars.
I’m so glad I decided to be a living donor. I didn’t think I’d become an advocate for living donation, but the more I learn, the more important I realize it is.
For example, I didn’t know that less than 2% of kidneys from deceased donors are usable. If everyone in the country signed an organ donor card, thousands of Americans would still die each year waiting for a kidney.
A lot of people have told me I’m a hero, and it is well-meant. But “hero” distances everyone else from the act and gets them off the hook. What I did was simple and obvious and motivated by my belief that human beings are by their nature interdependent and responsible for each other’s well-being.
Though I couldn’t fix the world, I could do this one thing and make it a lot better for one person. I am forever better for having done it.
To learn more about living donors, visit my website, www.kidneymama.com.