WHY I DONATED MY KIDNEY
I just got back from a long weekend up north to visit my friends Peggy and Ron and their daughter Emily. I donated my kidney to Ron in June and I am so happy to say that we are both feeling great now. We didn't do a whole lot, mostly hung out, watched the World Series, decorated the house for Halloween and listened to Em giggle with her new boyfriend.
It's odd how intimate my conversations with Ron are now. We talk about everything and there is no thought of holding back even when we talk about stuff we don't necessarily agree on. One night after dinner Peg was teasing me about how when she and Ron were dating I predicted that she wouldn't end up with him because he wasn't the guy for her. Ron was sitting right there when she said it and he looked a little taken aback, but I responded that it was because he never hung out with us - he was busy being a man in his manworld (we were 23 and he was 28 and seemed very grown up). It wasn't until years later that I found out that the grown up man was a great big Deadhead.
I had no idea that Ron and I would one day share a bond that is so unique and wonderful.
We were talking about the decision to donate and I shared that it was something that I always thought I would do. Peggy first told me that Ron would probably need a kidney transplant at some remote point in the future probably 10 years ago. At the time his kidney function was impaired although it took a while to determine the cause.
No one in my family has ever had kidney problems, but when I was a kid one of my friends went into kidney failure. It started happening when we were still in single digits and by the time he was 12 he needed a transplant. I have a very clear memory of the neighborhood moms talking about it in the kitchen. The one thing that deeply impacted me as I sat there listening was that his mom was going through testing to see if she could give him one of her kidneys.
That was astonishing to me. It was 1972 and living donation was a concept not even 20 years old, not that I knew that then. At 12, the idea that someone could give one of their organs to another person and save their life was miraculous and terrifying. Oh the drama! I interpreted this "kidney disease" to mean that he could no longer pee and he was going to die a terrible death, drowning in his own urine which couldn't get out of his body. I could completely understand why his mom would undergo, what in my mind was a gruesome and horrific Frankenstein type procedure to save her kid's life. Who wouldn't?
At that time they were starting to dramatize transplant surgery (mostly hearts) on the Movie of the Week. I LOVED the Movie of the Week and Afterschool Specials which is probably why the little movie in my mind, fed by tidbits gleaned from eavesdropping on my mom and her friends - "Brett Needs a Kidney," featured his brave mother being sawed in half to save her son as he hovered at death's door swollen with pee. The fact that he hadn't been at school for like a month because he was so sick, and the one time I did see him when I went over to his house he was yellow, bore out my whole drowning in pee theory.
Turns out Brett received a cadavaric kidney because his mom wasn't a match. He came back to school with a puffy face from the anti-rejection drugs and life went on. Except that I now knew someone who was a walking miracle.
Later on, in college I took an anatomy and physiology class from a really great teacher and I learned about the magical kidney. The kidney is truly one of the foundations of our well-being. They do a lot more than just clean the blood. They regulate the composition of our blood, they keep the concentrations of various ions and other important substances constant as well as the volume of water in the body and the acid/base concentration of the blood. They remove wastes from the body (urea, ammonia, drugs, toxic substances), help regulate the blood pressure, stimulate the making of red blood cells and maintain the body's calcium levels.
I had always thought the kidneys were about urine, but they're mostly about blood. They are just as important as the heart when it comes to our overall health - although I think the heart gets bigger, better billing. The kidneys always seemed to be featured players, barely even a co-star unless, of course, they are failing.
Brett ultimately received three transplanted kidneys before he died at age 44.
When Peg told me that Ron had been placed on the transplant list 5 or 6 years ago I told her then that I would donate. There was never any doubt or second thought after I said it - I knew that I was going to be the one to give my kidney to Ron and that the transplant would be successful.
Peggy called me a week and a half ago and said, "I just wanted to tell you that my husband and I went out today and he got new suits and new eyeglasses, something I haven't been able to get him to do in six years. I think he's starting to realize that he's going to be okay. I wanted to say thank you again."
Although Ron never defined himself as a sick person, and you would never have known that he was on dialysis or needed a transplant, his illness affected him. This weekend I saw for myself that not only is he doing well - he is well.