There seems to be some confusion from many quarters about an opportunity I’ve taken up recently. To be specific, I know a young fellow in New England who is in need of a kidney. I am pursuing the possibility that I may be able to give him one of mine.
As I discussed this with friends and family, I was stunned that some parties were actually against it – vehemently. This completely boggles my mind. I literally could not conceive of anyone wanting to stand in the way of an act of true and compassionate generosity. Other seem to be merely confused with a lot of “what makes this guy so special?” kinds of questions. Maybe the best way to explain my process – and make no mistake, it is a process – is to write it all out here.
(And perhaps by this, others will be compelled to consider the same path, but that’s their choice.)
I’m not going to name names, but let me tell you about this fellow. He’s a young man, 21 years old, and he was born with one bum kidney and the other only operating at 20% capacity. It held out for a few years, but it finally gave up the ghost in his early childhood and he was blessed with a transplanted kidney. This one worked for quite a very long time and only ceased functioning over three years ago. Since then, this young man has been on dialysis three times a week, rain or shine. He was also born with other medical issues, but they were all resolved. This is the “hold out”.
As a person, he’s bright, clever, slightly cynical, artistic, creative, and has a great outlook on life. He’s openly gay, supports others being themselves, no matter what, and has a great deal of love and support from his amazing mother and step-father. He loves to build prop pieces for theatrical productions, goes to steampunk LARP events as often as possible, and enjoys video games and horror movies.
He’s an ordinary kid with extraordinary potential – which is precisely the same potential that every other “ordinary kid” possesses. The difference is that he doesn’t have years and years left in his life to real-ize that potential. The studies on how long someone can live on dialysis are shaky. He’s young, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, doesn’t do drugs, and that’s all well and good, but these things don’t automatically mean that he can use the Machine indefinitely. The Machine is not as efficient as an actual kidney, and toxins build up, causing stress on other organs. The longer he’s on dialysis, the less time he’ll have in the long run – and the harder it will be for his body to accept a new kidney.
The first phase of determining compatibility is blood type, and we are both Type O. He’s negative and I’m positive, but that doesn’t come into play so much. We’re also both fairly small people, and size does matter in these instances. I will have my blood drawn at a nephrology clinic here in Dallas and sent up to the transplant team in New England to determine if I’m compatible enough to enter into the next phase of screening. If I make it that far, I’ll go up there for further testing, and if that passes, I’ll stay for a few weeks and go through a routine surgery by one of the best transplant teams in the nation to give my kidney to someone who needs it more than I do.
After all, I was born with a spare. He wasn’t.
I am not so daft as to pretend that there aren’t questions and fears in my own heart as well about this – “low-risk” is not the same as “no-risk”, after all – but when I’m being challenged on my beliefs and stances, I am far less inclined to discuss them openly. Still, they need airing, as they are important to acknowledge. (As we say, “Feelings Buried Alive Never Die“.)
Yes, I know I’m a single mom with four kids, and that they are my top priority. If this were even a mid-risk procedure, I’d have to decline. However, everything I’ve read and everyone I’ve spoken to in the field – including transplant specialists – assures me that complications are minimal and that a little forethought and preparation can keep the worst of the worst from happening. Recovery time is only six to eight weeks at the outside, which is as much time as it would take to recover from a severely broken bone or having a baby (which I’ve done a few times). In the worst-case scenario that something happened to me, though, I also trust my co-parents and family and friends to step up and help raise the kids in the best way possible.
If someone had to lose a parent, would you want them to have to say “car accident” or “war casualty” or “mugging”, or would you prefer something more like “giving their life in an act of ultimate generosity”? I trust that I have raised my children to know that risks exist, that things happen, and that a negative outcome does not make an act of ultimate love a wrong thing.
My gut says that this is a moot point, that nothing bad will happen at all, and that life will go on afterwards just as it did before (albeit probably with a cup or two less of coffee per day), but it’s a question that bears answering.
My personal biggest fear is that I will be able to do this thing, that the transplant will take place, and then the kidney won’t last very long, that it’ll be rejected and that he’ll be back where he started in only a few years. There are ways around this – the transplant team may be talking about doing a bone marrow transplant at the same time to lower those chances – but if I’m able to give a gift of this magnitude, I want it to last for multiple decades. That may be selfish… that’s not the right word, but I can’t think of the right one… because I know that it will last as long as it can, possibly for the rest of his life, however long that is.
Perhaps the point that escapes the masses is that there is a sense of urgency, but not so much that it can’t be thought through. Yes, I’ve considered the possibility that maybe one of my own kids might need a kidney in the future, and I’d like to think that making a “karmic deposit” like this would increase their chances of finding a donor since I would not be able to. And at the same time, with my own knowledge of how to keep a healthy body running well, I’d like to think that such a thing would not be necessary.
There is another aspect of “karmic deposit” as well that is even more personal, and that is that one of my nieces also needs a transplant – but it’s not for a kidney. It’s for a heart. That is an enormous thing because you obviously can’t provide a living donation for a heart, but I’d like to believe that whomever in the future could grant her this gift of life would do so with the same spirit of unconditional love and generosity.
This act only takes a moment out of a two huge, full lives. Who among us has the word “donor” on our driver’s license in absolute honesty? If it is because you don’t really care what happens after you die, that is still commendable because you are still enhancing lives, but if it’s because you truly believe that literally giving of yourself so that someone else may live is the right thing to do, then you stand with me.
Do not misconstrue my statements and take away from it that I feel that everyone should be a living donor if they’re capable. You must live in your own highest conscience. I only wish to explain why I feel that I can, and I ask that you respect my highest conscience as well.