I had never thought about being an organ donor. Sure, I had been a regular blood donor for more 25 years and I had signed up for organ donation as part of my driver’s license. But, I always thought that it would happen upon my death. I never thought I could or would be a living donor. However, that all changed in early-2015.
My first cousin, Dennis, who was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes when he was 10, had been battling failing kidneys for years. Although we grew up spending quite a bit of time together (his mother and my mother are sisters), we had lost touch as we grew up in different cities living different lives and only spoke or saw each other once or twice a year.
Then, in 2015, at the age of 63, his kidneys could take no more and he was put on dialysis. His future was bleak. He reached out to family members via email and outlined his dire situation. He asked all of us to let him know if we knew of anyone who would be interested in learning about kidney donation. I responded, telling him that I knew nothing about it and asked if he could he tell me more. He sent me a dissertation on his situation and some basic information about kidney donation. He also casually mentioned his blood type (AB+, which is quite rare) and I was immediately shocked that I had the same blood type. It seemed like a sign, so I decided to learn more.
He put me touch with a living donor coordinator with the Virginia Transplant Center at Henrico Doctors’ Hospital in Richmond, Virginia. After an hour-long conversation, and many hours-long discussions with my husband and other family members, I decided to pursue the initial testing. I figured, “There’s no way I’ll be a match,” so I thought there was no harm to put my toe in the water.
After much initial kidney and blood testing, it was found that I was, indeed, a compatible match. That summer, I underwent a week-long physical of a lifetime to determine whether or not I was healthy enough to be a donor. And, not only did every test come back as compatible, I was also found to be super-healthy and a perfect candidate.
Boy, was I shocked. I had assumed at every turn, that I would be found unsuitable for one of any number of reasons. But when I got back this phenomenally clean bill of health, I was so thrilled for my own good fortune that I couldn’t think of any better way to give thanks (and give back) than to pursue the donation. I started feeling like it was obviously meant to be.
Dennis and I met several times and talked often, both candidly and openly. I asked him many questions about his health and his commitment to the post-donation issues and lifestyle he would have to deal with. And, he asked me tough questions about my intentions and thoughts regarding the significance of what we were about to embark upon. He was caring and considerate and never put any pressure on me.
The surgery was set for mid-December so that I would have ample time to prepare myself and my life—as well as have the Holidays to recuperate. As the weeks passed and the date approached, I became more comfortable with my decision and knew that I was doing the right thing. I never faltered on my decision and I found myself with a renewed appreciation of being able to give someone this amazing gift of life.
The surgery was 100% successful. My recuperation wasn’t nearly as difficult as I was worried it might be and I was back to my same healthy lifestyle within six weeks. Dennis had a much more challenging uphill battle post-surgery, but I am thrilled to say that his kidney function is as good as it was prior to his diabetes diagnosis 50 years ago. Today he is leading a full life with his family and grandchildren, gardening, exercising, and even traveling to rekindle relationships from his past.
Now, a year later, I wouldn’t even remember that I donated a kidney if it weren’t for the scar on my stomach. A scar that I consider a badge of honor, courage, and life that I am proud to wear. I would absolutely do it again (if I could) and I would encourage anyone who has an opportunity to give life, to jump in with both feet, never look back, and give thanks for the chance of a lifetime!