My journey began this past summer when I came across an article about a man who lost his 17-year-old daughter in a tragic car accident. His daughter was an organ donor and he was very inspired when he learned that her heart valves saved another person's life.
In her memory, he became an advocate to encourage people to become organ donors. Early on, he learned of the need and the opportunity to be a living kidney donor -- and he did just this -- which is what the article was about.
I too had made the decision to donate my organs upon my death. But before reading the article this past summer, I had no idea that it was possible to be a living kidney donor. I had no idea how many people were on the waiting list for a kidney -- 87,000 and it continues to rise. More than 5,000 people a year die while waiting for a kidney.
I did not realize that an individual can lead a normal life with one kidney. In fact one in 700 are born with one kidney and lead a perfectly normal life. Furthermore, I was encouraged to hear that the donor's surgery is laparoscopic which is far less invasive then traditional surgery, so this means a much shorter recovery time. Although there is a risk in any surgery, being a living kidney donor overall is very safe.
I am a Christian and therefore I seek out God's wisdom through prayer before making any major decisions. Before I even finished reading the newspaper article, I felt God prompting me to consider being a living kidney donor. I imagined what it would be like for one of my family members whose kidneys were failing and in need of a kidney transplant -- knowing that his/her life would be greatly compromised and significantly shortened.
Undoubtedly, a few of my family members would step up to donate, but what if we learned that none of us were a match? This happens approximately 30 percent of the time. Being a family member doesn't automatically mean you are a match to another family member. We would be disheartened and feel that hope was lost. The average waiting list for a deceased donor kidney is approximately five years.
But then imagine being told that there is an option called a kidney pairing! A kidney pairing can be done if you are not a match for a specific recipient, and the same situation exists for another donor and their recipient, but you match the other's recipient. Hope is given back!
My decision to be an altruistic donor came after praying to God for guidance, talking with my husband, Mike, and my sister, Stacey. Putting myself in "someone else's shoes," and reflecting on the 43 years of good health that God has blessed me with … for me it was a fairly easy decision.
In the subsequent weeks, I did further research on the Internet on the topic of being a living kidney donor. This research included reading about the experiences of two recent altruistic donors, Cara Yesawich (simplycara.blogspot.com) and Angela Stimpson (oksolo.blogspot.com). I found their blog sites to be very informative and inspiring.
Another valuable site with a wealth of information is The Living Kidney Donors Network (lkdn.org). Harvey Mysel started the network and is a recipient from a living donor as well. His site is dedicated to those who need a kidney as well as those who are interested in being a living kidney donor. I printed several articles from this site for my family members to read so they could fully understand the process and minimal risks.
A very valuable resource of information and support to me was the mentoring I received from Cara Yesawich. Cara is the altruistic donor who allowed eight people to receive a kidney in Northwestern Hospital's largest kidney pairing in April of 2010. She is passionate about being a mentor for others who are on this journey and came to the hospital to offer her support immediately following my surgery … what a blessing she was to me!
For anyone considering becoming a living donor, I strongly encourage you to take advantage of the "gift" of having a mentor. I welcome the opportunity to share my experience with anyone. My contact is firstname.lastname@example.org.
My surgery was on Dec. 30 and because I am an altruistic donor, three people were able to receive a kidney in a pairing at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. I experienced moderate pain the first several days and slept a lot. After a week, I turned the corner and was able to return to work half days (my energy was still not at 100 percent). I was back to work full time by the third week and am now about four weeks out from surgery and back to normal.
I plan on starting to run again in a week or two and am registered to run another marathon in September.
I received a beautiful card from the family of the gentleman who received my kidney in the kidney pairing. Part of it reads:
"Dear Brenda, It is impossible to thank someone for a gift such as you have given to us. Dialysis allowed my Dad to live, but your gift of a kidney has given him a renewed quality of life worth living, and for that, we are eternally grateful."
The sacrifice that I made in donating one of my kidneys was minimal compared to the gift of giving an improved quality of life, which I was able to give someone else.