Living Hope Weblog

Organ and Tissue donation

A Journey Through Anonymous Kidney Donation

My wife and I were going to work one Friday morning in 2004 when over the radio an advertisement for a fundraising benefit played.  It was a benefit for a man who was known throughout our area because of a bar band that bore his name.  He was on dialysis every other day, had three children, his wife had died 2 years prior, and because of the dialysis he couldn’t hold a full time job. After listening to it I thought what all of us at one time or another has thought, “that’s too bad”, then forgot about it.

I worked all day, and did whatever that evening never once giving a second thought to what I heard earlier that morning.  That night, however, was a different story.  I dreamed that I donated a kidney to this person. I’m not one who remembers dreams, but this one stayed with me, although I can no longer remember the details of it.  All day Saturday it stayed in my head, I couldn’t shake it.  The fundraiser was the next day and I told my wife that I wanted to go.

Sunday came and my wife and I went to the event. I watched all of the interaction between him, his kids, and his family and friends.  The place was packed!  I decided that day that I wanted to go ahead and donate a kidney to him, though I wasn’t sure where to start.  I thought that maybe my family doctor would be as good a place as any.  So, I made an appointment.

I met with my doctor and told her what I was thinking of doing.  She was quiet for a moment, then her and I talked about it and she referred me to a kidney specialist so that I could find out more about it.  She made an appointment for me for a week later.

At the specialist’s office, the nurse came in, sat down at the computer in the examination room and asked what the problem was.  I replied, “there is no problem.  I’m thinking about donating a kidney and my family doctor thought that I should talk to this doctor for find out more.”   The nurse’s jaw almost hit the floor.  She jumped up out of the chair and took off toward the door.  She told me she would send him right in then disappeared into the hallway.

About 5 minutes later the doctor entered.  He asked the same question as his nurse did and I answered as I did before.  He stood there silent for a moment, then talked to me for about a half-an-hour about donation.  When we were done, he set me up with Hershey Medical Center to get the process started.

A day or so later I got a call from Mary Anne, a transplant coordinator with Hershey Medical Center (HMC) and we talked for a bit.  She explained to me the process and was very professional answering any questions that I had.  She told me she would send me the equipment I would need to get a blood sample and send it back to HMC.  When I got the package a couple of days later, I found it to contain several big and empty vials.  I took the vials to my local hospital and had blood drawn and sent back to HMC.  It was a couple of weeks until I heard a response about the results of the test.

The results?  I was a match, but there was someone else who appeared to be a better match.  HMC wanted to explore that option first, but I would be the back-up if something happened.  That was the last I heard from HMC for a few months.  However, I knew he got a new kidney and was doing well from talking to people who knew his in-laws.

When I did hear back from HMC, I was told he got a kidney and doing fine.  Mary Anne thanked me for my offering.  At this point I thought that I was done with organ donation.  Then she asked me a question that changed my life.  She asked if I had ever given any thought to donating to someone else.  Someone I didn’t know.  I told her no, but I’d give it some thought and call her back.  Within 5 minutes I called her back and told her that I’d donate the kidney.

After I told her my decision, a sort of peace and calmness came over me.  This was the right thing to do.  I’m not a religious man, but I do have my spiritual beliefs.  I believe that man makes choices throughout his/her life, but there are some things we don’t have a choice about.  These events are things that we need to do to learn things our souls need to know before moving on in what we call death.  I believe this was one of those events for me.

Every now and then I would get a call from Mary Anne asking me to take another blood test.  I would then hear nothing, meaning I wasn’t a match.  In January of 2006 I got another call from Mary Anne and told me there was a match.  It was a little girl from Texas.  I was told that she was basically given a death sentence and that this surgery was probably her last hope.  I had to undergo other tests, psychological, physical, and a 24 hour urine test; if all went well I would be getting rid of a kidney.

I did the tests and passed.  The surgery was then set for the Tuesday after Easter.  I had to be at HMC at 7:00 A.M. for the final blood cross-match tests, and I would be told by the end of the business day whether the surgery was still on.

The day before the surgery came, I did the last blood test, then waited.  At 10:30 P.M. I still hadn’t heard anything.  I turned off my phone and went to bed since I had to be at the hospital at 5:00 A.M.  The morning found me at the hospital in a gown and on a gurney in pre-op.  Then the nurse popped her head into my cubicle and told me I had a phone call.  When I answered the phone, the voice on the other end was one of the transplant coordinators.  She told me that she tried to call around 11:00 P.M. the night before, but couldn’t get hold of me.  She also gave me the results of the test…. no match.  The surgery was cancelled.  My heart sank.  The first thoughts in my head were of the little girl and that her life would probably end soon.  The next was for her family.  How devastated they must’ve been when they were told the news.  To this day that family still comes to my mind every now and then.

Time went by and things were quiet.  In October, that changed.  Mary Anne called me and told me they had matched me with a 19 year old male college student.  After a few more calls and emails, the date for the surgery was set — December 12, 2006.  I was actually excited about the upcoming surgery.

Time for me seemed to go slowly for the next month and a half.  Finally, the day before my surgery was here.  As before, I went through a final blood cross-match test before the surgery.  I was still a match.  I reported to the hospital at 5:00 A.M. the next day, was lead into pre-op and eventually put to sleep and sent into the operating room.  The next thing I knew, I was waking up and heard the nurse say, “He just woke up?  Where is she?”  The nurse was looking at me.  I told her that I didn’t donate to a girl, I donated to a young man; then I went back to sleep.

The next day I started walking, that’s what the professionals want you to do right after surgery, walk.  That afternoon, a social worker from HMC came to my room carrying 2 envelopes.  One was a thank you card from the doctors and transplant team.  The other was a thank you card from the recipient of my kidney.  Tears came to my eyes as I read the second card.  Then I saw the name on the bottom of the card… Jill.  I was a bit confused.

Later, Mary Anne came to my room and during our conversation, she informed me that the original recipient had to cancel for some reason.  Jill was the next match, she was available, and she was doing fine.  I had problems passing gas, so I had to stay in the hospital for three days.  It took a few more days to start passing gas, but I finally did it.

I went back for a check-up at the beginning of January 2007.  It was there that I found out that the surgery for Jill was not successful.  Again, my heart sank and again my thoughts went to her and her family.  It was during this conversation that my wife and I were able to get a couple of other tidbits of information; she is around college age and she lives in Amish country.

To this day, I’ve never met Jill.  Would I like to meet her? Yes, but only if she was the one to initiate the meeting.  If I never meet her, I’ll be fine with that too.  On the 1 year anniversary of the surgery, she sent me a miniature rose bush.  I wasn’t sure if I would hear from her again, so after HMC told me of the bush, my wife created a necklace and bracelet for her, which we sent to HMC to give to Jill.  The necklace had little charms which read things like “Believe”, “Faith”, and “Hope”.  At my last yearly check-up in January of 2008, I asked the doctors how she’s doing.  Thankfully she’s near the top of the waiting list and should hopefully soon have another transplant, this time successfully.

I’ve always looked at my donation not as saving someone’s life, but giving someone another chance at life.  By looking at it this way, I have never felt bad or guilty about the cancellation of the first transplant, or the unsuccessfulness of Jill’s surgery.  I did everything I could to help.

Before the surgery, friends, family, and co-workers told me that they would pray for me and the recipient.  I always told them, “Don’t pray for us, our fate is already decided.  Pray for our family and friends.  They’re the ones who will need the strength to deal with whatever happens.  If we weren’t strong enough to handle the results of the surgery, we wouldn’t have been put in this position.”  I truly believe this.

With everything that happened, and there were things that I didn’t tell in this entry, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  Actually, I’m thinking about donating bone marrow and maybe liver.  We’ll see what happens with these.


July 18, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 2 Comments