because i can

Anyone who knows me well enough knows that once I decide I’m going to do something, I do it. It only takes a small spark to get my mind set on something and from that point on it’s all I can think about. Sometimes this is a dangerous thing and has caused my poor mother many sleepless nights over my nearly 26 years of existence.

I’ve always felt the desire to do something bigger than myself. Running a marathon was a nice start, but what I really wanted was to do something for others. I give blood and I try to donate to various charities when I can, but as a struggling, at-the-beginning-of-her-career 20-something-year-old trying to forge her way through life on her own for the first time, money in amounts large enough to make a true difference is hard to come by. I wasn’t sure what else I could do, until I read the February 2010 issue of Glamour – specifically this article.

Flipping through the magazine one lazy Sunday, I came across this story (about a young NYC woman who made an anonymous kidney donation and ended up setting off a chain that eventually saved 11 lives) and something caught my eye – or rather, my heart. I read it not once, but twice, and by halfway through the second read, I knew I was going to donate a kidney – and hopefully set off a chain just like Christina Do did. After all, why save one life when you can save many?

I put down the magazine and after a moment of thought, stated to my boyfriend, Bobby, ‘I’m going to donate my kidney.’

‘To who?’

‘I don’t know. Someone who needs it more than I do.’

After only a few concerned questions, Bobby gave in to the fact that my mind was already made up (I have a wonderful boyfriend who has learned over our years together that there’s no point in trying to fight me once my mind is made up). He gave me his full support, knowing that I would go through with it regardless, and so my journey began.

However, before the end of our conversation, he made me promise one thing – that I would do all my research and truly think it over – the risks, the rewards, and everything in between – before making any moves. I promised, and I did. There are risks (though minimal) and I know it will be painful and uncomfortable, but to me, the pain I’ll endure is incredibly modest in comparison to the misery and suffering the 87,000 people awaiting a kidney transplant go through every day of their lives. As someone who greatly values her freedom, it is heartbreaking to read about the thousands upon thousands of people who spend 3 to 4 hours a day, multiple times a week – for the rest of their lives – on dialysis. Even more heartbreaking are the tales of the countless people who die on an ever-growing waiting list each year, praying that one day it will be their turn to receive a kidney – and the gift of a new life – and never see that day.

But, perhaps the most heartbreaking of all, in my opinion, is the suffering of the family members and friends who have to sit idly by while their loved one endures endless pain – and even faces death – and there is nothing they can do about it. What I found in my research is that there are so many people out there who are perfectly willing and able to donate their kidney to a loved one, but can’t because they are not a close enough match. When I think about this, even now, I am brought to tears. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for the people I love, and I simply cannot imagine how horrible it must feel to be so utterly helpless while watching someone I care so deeply about suffer and inch closer and closer to death. No one should ever have to feel that way.

And therein lies the beauty of Good Samaritan (also known as altruistic or non-directed) donations. If all my medical tests come back within their normal ranges and the doctors give me the green light, my kidney could become part of a paired kidney donation or, hopefully, a donation chain. Basically, my kidney will go to someone else who needs it on the condition that their loved one (who is willing to donate but doesn’t match) will donate their kidney to someone else in need who is a match, and so on (also called a domino paired exchange, because of its chain effect on potentially so many people). In this way, my one act will not only save one life (which is pretty darn good on its own if you ask me!), but could potentially save many, many lives through a chain of donations. Not a bad reward for a few cuts and bruises, don’t you think?

I know that as I begin to tell people about my cause I will inevitably get the question ‘Why?’ – and I have gotten that question already from the few people who do know what I plan to do. Why? Because I can. Because God forbid I was ever in the situation where someone I loved needed a kidney, and I wasn’t a match, I would hope and pray that someone out there would step forward and do the same for me and my loved one. Because I truly feel that as fellow human beings sharing this world, we owe it to help others in need when we are in a position to give. Because I have been blessed with great health and vitality and two functioning kidneys, when all I really need is one. Because if more people stepped forward and became Good Samaritan donors, we could virtually eliminate the waiting list in the United States (pretty amazing, isn’t it?). Because, when I really thought about it, and researched it, and debated over it, I couldn’t think of a good reason why I shouldn’t do it. And to me, that’s reason enough.


‘I arise in the morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. That makes it hard to plan the day.’  [E.B. White]


2 responses to “because i can

  • Chris

    Marina (editor at Glamour and the writer of the article) forwarded me your blog.
    I just wanted to say hello and tell you I think you’re a courageous woman. I’m not sure I was mature enough in my 20s to make the decision you’re making. Good luck.
    Christina Do

    • melissaarlio

      Hi Christina!!!! Thank you so much for your comment and for reading my blog – I feel so honored!! You’re the person who inspired me to embark on this journey to begin with so I feel like getting to speak to you is like the whole thing coming full circle!! How are you doing since your surgery? I’d love to email you if that’d be ok and discuss the process since I’m getting close to actual surgery!

      Thanks again to you and Marina for the support – I’m so deeply grateful for the both of you inspiring me to do this!!!

      All the best,

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