I woke up with an extraordinary feeling I had not experienced in almost a decade. Not the grogginess and pain that I had experienced more times than I care to remember. No, this was the feeling of hope. The first words out of my mouth when I saw the nurse come into the room was, “Does it work? Am I gonna be ok?”
“Look for yourself.”, said the nurse as she held up a bag of burgundy-tinged urine that I slowly realized was coming out of my brand new, working kidney. With all the strength I could muster, I let out a long pent-up sigh of relief and fell back under the spell of the mixture of leftover anesthesia and pain meds.
My name is Jason and I am from the San Antonio, Texas area. Until three months ago, I had spent the last 8 years on dialysis because my first kidney transplant from 2004 was no longer working. I was born with a rare disease called Eagle-Barrett Syndrome. One of the effects of the disease is that I dealt with kidney infections much of my childhood and early adolescence. By the time I was 23 I found myself on dialysis for the first time. After only a year and a half, I received a transplant from my best friend since middle school and was given my life back. However, after only 5 years I found myself back on the machine to keep my body clear of the toxic buildup of waste products and extra fluid in my body. After 8 years, I was sure it was never going to get any better. I was never going to know a life off of the dialysis machine. A life not dominated by 4 hours a day/3 days a week spent hooked to the life-saving machine. Then one day, out of the blue, that all changed.
This Tuesday was supposed to go as planned, like every Tuesday before it for the last 8 years; wake up whenever, do pretty much nothing, get tired by early afternoon, take a nap, watch TV and go to bed and get ready for the next day’s dialysis treatment. But at 845 in the morning this Tuesday and the rest of my life was gonna get a much-needed shakeup.
The phone rang both waking and severely irking me. I was always tired just from sitting in that dialysis chair for four hours the day before and loved my sleep. But a person has never seen anger wash away as if under a Hawaiian waterfall the way it did that fortuitous morning. On the other line was the call that there was a potential donor and that I should be standing by for a follow-up call with the good news and to be ready to be at the hospital at a moment’s notice. Wide awake now with an even mix of giddy excitement and cautious realism (having received similar calls before I knew all too well that it was likely to not go the way I hoped). I hung up the phone and immediately called his parents then some friends of mine. I desperately needed something to do to take my mind of the constant what ifs and anxious waiting; I wasn’t supposed to expect a call back before midnight, a mere 16 hours from then.
My parents shared my cautious optimism and my friends were willing to spend the day distracting me with video golf and card games. So, off I went to vainly attempt to pretend like it was any other Tuesday, joking, playing cards, and video golf but the quickness of my speech and fidgetiness belied a guy who was holding down a volcanic eruption of elation. I’m sure they could all tell it but weren’t drawing attention for fear of making it worse. Things seemed different to me this time. I had never looked at those phone calls as anything but teases that tore little pieces of my soul out until there was nothing left. Perhaps it was the nurse’s optimistic tone, though what choice did she really have, or maybe it was something unexplainable that just overtook me. Either way, though anxious, I was happier than I had been in a long time. I finally received the call that night around 830 pm and was told to be at the hospital the next morning at 6. I was beyond elated. I couldn’t keep the shouts of joy and relief inside any longer. It’s by far the happiest moment of my 38 years on this planet.
Once fully awake and lucid I was excited to see that I had a breakfast tray waiting for me. After a breakfast of the first banana I had eaten in eight years, I found out that I would be out of ICU and into a regular room later that day. Things were progressing nicely according to my doctors. I was happy to hear that but all I could focus on was the taste of that banana. I wanted a bushel of them. I asked for a bushel to the chuckles of my medical team. There were so many rules I followed while on dialysis. There were also some rules I didn’t so much to the chagrin of my nurses, clinic support staff, and doctor. Bananas, extremely high in potassium, could have sent me to the hospital or even stopped my heart cold if I had had too many or mixed them with other foods so this was the taste of freedom. The taste of good health.
Three months have gone by since that day and I am healthier than I’ve been in far too many years. If it weren’t for the generosity of spirit of the stranger whose kidney I received that day I would still be on dialysis treatments with little to no hope of anything getting better. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of that stranger. A 25-year-old stranger who lost their life but in the midst of what must be utter darkness I hope their family knows that somewhere out there a light was born inside me. The gift their loved one bestowed upon me will not be wasted. What comes next for me is still somewhat of a mystery. I plan to finish my degree starting this summer and from there try to do my best to make a difference in this world so that my gift can truly be earned.