Monthly Archives: February 2011

i am one

This past Friday I found out that my crossmatch blood test results came back negative, meaning that my intended recipient and I are a match and we can move forward with surgery! I also learned that there are two other crossmatch tests going on as we speak, meaning I will be helping two other people receive kidneys, and the chain could potentially grow even longer. This news is what I’ve been waiting to hear since I began this journey, months and months ago; ‘elated’ and ’emotional’ simply do not do my feelings justice. After a flurry of phone calls, text messages, and emails, however, the excitement subsided just enough to let another emotion quietly creep in: guilt.

As I’ve mentioned before, becoming a living donor has opened up to me a whole new network of friends and mentors. I’ve met some of the strongest, kindest, and most inspirational people through this experience, and each one of them has touched my life in some way or another. But the Reynolds family of Stuart, Florida may have left the most lasting impression of all:

The Reynolds family runs a wonderful Facebook group called the Kidney Connection. As a member of the group, I had posted a link to my blog on their page and kept everyone up to date on the latest news as I moved along in the donation process. Jane Reynolds, the mother of the family, messaged me one day to express how deeply touched she was while reading my blog and by my decision to become an altruistic donor. It turns out, as she explained, that her daughter, 24-year-old Abby, donated her kidney to her father – Jane’s husband – last summer, saving him from a life of painful and debilitating dialysis. Jane told me that I should reach out and talk to Abby if I had any questions, and within a day or so, Abby and I also became friends. I found comfort in the fact that Abby was a female, only two years younger than me, that had gone through this same surgery and came back from it stronger than ever – she’s already back to running and enjoying life. I felt instantly connected with this gregarious duo, but it wasn’t until a couple of days later that I would truly come to appreciate their strength and courage.

After some back and forth with Jane and, eventually, her husband, Michael (who also reached out to me to express his feelings about what I’m doing), I learned that ultimately this close-knit family did not get the happy ending they had hoped for. The initial transplant went perfectly – Abby’s kidney was young and healthy and Michael’s body did not reject it. However, after only a brief period of respite from dialysis, Michael found himself once again in the hospital for a procedure that should have alleviated a minor issue with the transplant. Instead, it ended up perforating and ultimately killing his new kidney. Devastated and defeated by this rare outcome, the family was knocked back to square one.

Understandably, this would make any sane person crazy with rage and desperation. The Reynolds family, however, had their period of mourning and anger, and then decided to move on. They know better than anyone that life doesn’t always unfold how we dream it will, and that the best remedy is a positive attitude and forward momentum. Abby, even now, has never regretted her decision to donate her kidney, and Michael still calls her his ‘hero’. This family has been through hell and back, but from the love and energy they exude, you would never know it. Their positivity, courage, and selflessness continue to astound and inspire me. It is people like them who reinforce my decision to become a kidney donor.

As I was getting to know the Reynolds family, someone out there was in the process of being tested as a potential recipient of my kidney. Only a few days before hearing the results of those tests, I found out that Michael Reynolds’ blood type is A-, just like me. While this doesn’t necessarily mean we’d be a match, it’s a great start. I told Jane that my first obligation was to my potential recipient (about whom I still know nothing except that he or she is ‘local’), but if that should fall through, I would love to discuss the possibility of being tested with Michael. While I knew I was still doing a wonderful thing for a stranger out there, I was plagued by the idea that here was this family with this horrible story that I could potentially help and I wasn’t able to. Abby and her sister are both close to me in age, so I found myself constantly imagining myself in their shoes. After days of tormenting myself, I decided that it was out of my hands for the moment, and I would deal with it when I learned the results of my crossmatch testing. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, so I put my faith in the test.

When I got the call with my results, therefore, my excitement was laced with a stinging guilt that I had, in some way, turned my back on the Reynolds family. Upon hearing the news, in true Reynolds family fashion, Jane sent me a message saying that although she wished we had connected sooner, she was so happy for me and that ‘the world needs more people like [me]’. She also reminded me how much I will be changing – saving – someone’s life. Here was a woman, going through a struggle I cannot even begin to comprehend, and she’s comforting me. The epitome of selflessness.

In the few days that have since passed, I’ve come to accept that I can only do so much. I would love to save the world – every person in need, every animal living in fear, every forest that is destroyed – but I can’t. However, this experience has brought me to the realization that donating a kidney is only the beginning of my crusade. There are still thousands upon thousands of suffering people on the cadaver kidney waiting list. And, as I will soon be down to my last kidney, I will not be able to help every family I meet, but I can spread the word about living donation so that someone else might also be inspired to try.

I believe we all have a higher purpose in life that goes beyond our nine-to-five. We are not alone in this world, and for every personal battle we fight there is someone out there, like Michael Reynolds, who is fighting an even more formidable opponent. Think about what you have in your life. Not the material things – the clothes, the houses, the cars – but the intangibles. The friends who make us laugh. The family that cares for us. The significant others who make us whole. The pets that keep us young. And then look beyond that, into yourself. If you’ve got your health and well-being, you’ve got so much more than a lot of people, and you just might be able to share that with someone who needs it. Whether you can donate your kidney, your blood, or even your time and assistance, there is something we all can do for others. Sometimes, it just takes the courage of one person – or one family – to realize it.

 

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.  [Edward Everett Hale]

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live slow

After spending this past week in paradise, a.k.a. St. Lucia, on warm, sunny beaches, in crystal clear waters, with nothing but the sun on my face and a beautiful, tropical breeze at my back, I’ve come to realize quite a few things about myself. With no cell phone service and very little internet access, my boyfriend and I were able, for the first time since, well, ever, to completely disconnect from the outside world. We had nothing to stress over, no responsibilities to be slave to, no work to think about, people to please, questions to answer, or schedules to live by. For seven glorious days and nights, we simply existed as the locals do – waking up without an alarm, eating when we’re hungry, doing anything we pleased or nothing at all if that was more to our liking. It’s amazing what something like that does for your mind, body, and soul. I feel rested, recharged, and refreshed – ready to face life again, though I wish I could have brought some St. Lucia weather to New Jersey!

St. Lucians absolutely embrace and live by their motto, ‘Live Slow’. To them, life is meant to be enjoyed, soaked up to the very last drop. The inhabitants of this lush, tropical island are – as a direct result, I believe – some of the happiest, most laid back people I’ve ever met. While a large majority of them live severely impoverished lives, they don’t seem to worry about it all that much. As long as they have clothes on their backs (which they’ve likely made), food on their tables (which they’ve grown themselves), and the ocean and sun outside their doors, they’ve got all they need as far as they’re concerned. What a stark, dramatic contrast to the people of America. As a whole, we are a greedy, self-serving nation, always on the lookout to acquire more, better, faster. The average American is leaps and bound, wealth-wise, ahead of the average St. Lucian, but when it comes to happiness and satisfaction, I’m afraid we pale in comparison.

As I sat on the beach, watching the comings and goings of the locals and, more often, the ‘liming’ or ‘slipping’ they do all day (their words for ‘hanging out’), I got to do a lot of thinking and reflecting. While I don’t know that I could be fully satisfied with a lifestyle as slow as theirs (though I wouldn’t exactly say no to a few months living as the St. Lucians do!), there was a lot to learn from these people: to take life one day, one hour, one minute at a time; to worry less and enjoy more; to embrace and relish in the everyday beauties in my life even if they don’t include a gorgeous paradise outside my window. Above all, though, the residents of St. Lucia have mastered one thing we all could use a bit more of: appreciation. While it’s certainly harder to appreciate things when the world around us is frozen, cold, and unrelenting, a deeper look reveals that there are countless things for which we should be thankful. Unwavering support from family. Unending laughs with friends. Unquestioning acceptance and love from significant others. Unconditional love and loyalty from pets. A roof over our heads, food in our bellies, and clean water at our fingertips. Our health, our voice, our ability to pursue any life we so choose. The list goes on and on.

Among other things, this much-needed break from life reaffirmed my desire to donate my kidney. Along with the support I’ve received, there have been the questions, the doubts, and the attempts to change my mind. To say I’m immune to these would be a lie. To say I’ve never had even the slightest shadow of a doubt bubble up would also be a lie. But despite it all, I’ve always felt deep down that I was meant to do this, and this trip rekindled that feeling and gave me the strength I need to power on in the face of adversity, suspicion, and coercing. And it couldn’t have happened at a better time…

Upon my return to the States and my reconnecting to the cellular world, I received a message alerting me that a possible match to receive my kidney had been located (and someone local, to boot!); crossmatch blood tests this upcoming Monday morning will confirm this and, if it turns out to be a false start, the NKR will get right back to looking for another possible match. Yet, if all goes well, the next step will be to set a date for surgery – THE surgery. Months and months of research, tests, trips to doctors, arguments, celebration, and endless waiting will finally come to fruition. And, most importantly, lives will be saved, improved, and forever changed. My recipient and the rest of the recipients in the chain, as well as their families, friends, and loved ones, will get a second chance: at life, at health, and at feeling (and appreciating) the sun on their faces and the wind at their backs.

A beautiful St. Lucian sunset, as photographed by my incredibly talented boyfriend.

 

 

The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.  [Dalai Lama]