by Joy Rosenthal~Just a little over a year ago, I had an opportunity to participate in a miracle. Here is what happened:
Two years ago, one of my best friends, Dee, found out he had kidney failure (due to sickle cell disease), and went on dialysis. It was overwhelming to see what he had to deal with. He worked all day and went to the center near his home each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 6:00 – 10:00 pm.
For four hours each session, he sat in a chair while his blood was cycled through a machine which cleaned it and returned it back. The schedule was unrelenting. He couldn’t skip a session. If he travelled he had to find a dialysis center where he went. I often picked him up after his sessions – he was usually ravenous and exhausted.
The only way to get off of dialysis was to get a new kidney. He made an appointment at Cornell Medical Center, one of the premier transplant centers in the country. He was a great candidate for a transplant, they said. The only problem was that there were 93,000 people – over 7 years – on the waiting list ahead of him!
The only way to get off of the list for a kidney from a deceased donor (think car accident) was to find a living donor. It turns out that although we each have two kidneys, we only need one to live a normal, healthy life. If Dee could find a living donor, he would not have to wait. We talked about it, and decided that I would help him find one. He had enough to deal with.
Of course, the donor had to be a match – or so we thought. But as I started reading more, I realized they did not have to be. New databases of potential donors and recipients were being created, so even if we found a donor who was not a match, they could find someone who was! They were doing incredible things with these swaps – there had been a chain of donors and recipients that involved 30 kidneys and 60 people!
Dee came from a small family, and for various reasons, none of them could donate. I created a Facebook page, a website, and sent letters to his friends. Meanwhile, I begged him to let me get tested. He didn’t want to be a burden. The more I researched it, the more inspired I became. I wanted to be of service. I wanted my friend to live a long and healthy life. The risk seemed small compared to the potential result.
It didn’t take long for Dee to relent. I went down to Cornell – they gave me the most thorough physical I’ve ever had. I spoke with a social worker who asked about my motivation – and my support.
It turned out that Dee and I had the same blood type. We are different races. Our families are from different parts of the world. Our bodies don’t look anything alike. Yet, amazingly, we were a direct match.
On the morning of May 30, 2013, we sat together in our hospital gowns cracking jokes to cover our nervousness as we waited. The surgery before ours took a little longer than expected. (They did 3 transplants that day!) Our families paced in the waiting room. They took us to adjacent operating rooms. The next thing I knew, I woke up and my left kidney was now his left kidney.
He had new medicines to get used to, and it took a while to get his strength back, but he wasn’t on dialysis any more. He had his time back. In a few months, he went back to work. His new kidney found its home in his body, and it works just fine.
It took me a little time to get my strength back, too. I have a scar on my belly button. But other than that, I honestly can’t really tell.
The number of people waiting for kidneys is growing each day.
What can you do?
1. Sign up to be an organ donor when you die – you could save the lives of 8 people. Tell your family and your health care proxy that you wish to donate.
2. Learn about kidney donation, and consider being a donor if you are ever asked.
3. Spread the word. Share this article. Let people know.
I am not a martyr. I am just someone who cares. And now, sometimes on a Tuesday or a Thursday or a Saturday, Dee and I go out to dinner. There is nothing like a good laugh with an old friend.