Organ Donation from Another Perspective
You might expect me to tell you that I’m a recipient of a new heart after my own had failed. Or that my liver had been damaged in an accident, or that I have a loved one on an organ waiting list who desperately needs a new lung.
None of the above is true. I am a healthy, fairly normal woman with a career, a loving husband, and two wonderful adult children. But I do have a story to tell that you should hear.
I only have one kidney. No, I didn’t “lose” the other one. I know exactly where it is: my brother has it: I gave it to him. But this story is not about what I gave, but rather what I received in return.
My brother had a degenerative kidney disease for ten years. Each episode of the illness left him with less kidney function until finally his kidneys stopped working altogether.
I could tell you about the emotional journey over the next several months that culminated with the wonderful news that I was an extremely close match and the transplant surgery was scheduled. I could tell you the anguish that my husband and children went through after I convinced them that I was firm in my decision to donate my kidney to my brother. I could recreated the emotional scene outside the operating room as I was wheeled into surgery with my sister-in-law holding my hand and expressing concern and gratitude as profuse tears rolled down both our cheeks.
But I won’t tell that story because it has been told over and over again in families and hospitals all over the world. It is a familiar one that no one seems to tire of hearing. The happiness of the recipient after being restored to a healthy life and the tales of unselfish love are ones we are eager to hear repeated. They should be repeated and celebrated over and over again.
However, there is another side to organ donation you seldom hear about. It is not about what was given to the transplant recipient but what the donor received. Let me tell you what I gained from this experience.
Even those first few days in the hospital when I wasn’t feeling my best I could hear my brother’s voice across the hall. It was strong and enthusiastic as I heard him ask his wife to bring him a cheeseburger and french fries, food he couldn’t have during the progression of his kidney disease. I saw the look of determination in his eyes as he studied his new regiment of anti-rejection drug he will take for the rest of his life. And I felt their overwhelming love as his wife and children embraced me and attempted to make me understand how grateful they were.
As the weeks and months went by I saw my brother’s renewed enthusiasm for life. I was there when he helped his son buy his first car. I was there as he planned a surprise anniversary party for his wife. And I was there on my niece’s wedding day when my brother came to me and we hugged each other just before he walked his daughter down the isle with eyes full of tears. Tears of a father thankful to be healthy enough to proudly walk beside his daughter on her most special of days.
I was there when he played his first round of golf after transplant. A game he enjoys so much but had been too weak to walk the course and swing the club. And I was beside him when illness struck again and nearly took his life. I watched as he battled the infection, refusing to give in after coming so far.
I knew exactly what I was giving prior to transplant. I was giving my brother a kidney. I was giving him a chance for a healthier life. I had no idea that the joy I would receive in return would be so overwhelming. I thank God every day for giving me the opportunity to be a living donor.