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]


8 responses to “i am one

  • Tweets that mention i am one « Consider the Stars -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Renal Dialysis, LKDN(dot)Org. LKDN(dot)Org said: Another angel has arrived! Meet our friend, Melissa. Amazing!! http://fb.me/t9qEH6b8 […]

  • gtaniwaki

    Hi Melissa – You’re not alone. I had the same feelings too. Before my donor surgery, I started doing volunteer work with various kidney organizations. I wanted to help every kidney patient I met. And I felt a twinge of guilt knowing that my kidney wasn’t going to them. Now that my surgery is complete, I still do volunteer work, but my focus is more clear, knowing I can no longer help a patient directly.

    • melissaarlio

      Hi George!
      It’s nice to hear that I’m not the only one who’s had/has these feelings. We can only donate once, of course, but I think it’s so incredibly admirable that you continue volunteer and work with kidney patients. The journey doesn’t end the day of surgery – that’s only the beginning!!!

      Thanks again for reading and for the ongoing support! 🙂

  • Bob

    I discovered your blog this evening from the Living Kidney Donor Network’s facebook page and just finished reading it from beginning to end. I am completely overwhelmed by your compassion and understanding of what those in kidney failure and their families go through.

    My wife Jeanne and I will be participating in part of a kidney transplant chain the end of this week at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell. Jeanne will be receiving a kidney on Thursday and I will be donating mine on Friday. I won’t go into all of the details here because you can read more about that on my blog at http://teamteddybear.blogspot.com.

    Reading through your posts, I saw many familiar names and read of many familiar experiences as I went through the process. Jeanne has been visiting with Dr. Serur since before her first transplant back in 1998 and we’ve known Marian for about as long. During my evaluation, I met with Ilana and Dr. Loftus and had Jackie draw my blood (she’s the best!) I do have to disagree with you about the CAT scans being the easiest, though – I’ll take the EKG and X-ray over those any day 🙂

    You also mentioned Dr. Del Pizzo, who will be my surgeon for the nephrectomy on Friday. If googling him was reassuring to you, you’ll be even more reassured when you get to meet him. He’s been doing laproscopic kidney removal surgery since the late 90s down at Johns Hopkins where they first started the procedure. He may have performed this surgery more times than anyone else on the planet.

    Anyway, I wanted to thank you for coming forward and being an altruistic donor and for giving one or more people another shot at life without dialysis, in the same way another altruistic donor has done for us.

    Since it appears that I’ll be going through the same surgery at the same hospital just a little in advance of you, I would be happy to fill you in on any questions you might have about my experiences. You can send me email through my blogger profile or post on my blog itself.

    I’ll be continuing to follow your blog in the coming weeks and will pray that your experience is everything you are hoping for.

    • melissaarlio

      Hi Bob,

      It’s so nice to ‘meet’ you! Thank you so much for reading my blog and for reaching out to me with your wonderful words of encouragement – it’s support like yours that keeps me motivated on this long journey!

      First of all, congrats to you and your wife! Not only will you be giving someone else another chance at a normal, healthy life, but your wife is going to be receiving that very same gift!! You must be so incredibly elated, and I am so very happy for the both of you!

      Second, what a coincidence that we’re both using the same facility and team! Well, I suppose it’s not SUCH a coincidence – Weill Cornell is one of the best places in the country for this type of procedure! It’s so wonderful to hear about the relationship you have with the whole team there, and I find it so comforting to hear even more about their qualifications and dedication to living donation. After all, we are both literally putting our lives in their hands – we have every right to want the best of the best! From the moment I walked through the doors of the transplant center, I felt very confident in my decision to have the procedure done there, and I’m so glad that I’m not alone in that assessment.

      I’m going to read your blog right now. I’ve found that the most invaluable information I’ve received throughout this journey is that which I’ve read via other people’s personal experiences and blogs. Thank YOU for sharing your story – not only will you surely inspire others to donate, but you are providing immeasurable support to people like me who are in the midst of this process.

      I have a mentor with whom I’ve been speaking who also was an altruistic donor and had her surgery performed at Weill. She has had nothing but wonderful things to say about the team and the recovery process – between your testimonial and hers, I’m really getting excited about moving forward!!

      Please keep in touch if you can after the surgery. I’ll be sure to email you and I’d love to hear about your experience once you’re home and able to get back to me. If I don’t talk to you before, best of luck to your wife on Thursday and you on Friday! A speedy recovery to both of you and a congrats on your new, health-filled lives!!!

      All the best – Melissa

  • Harvey Mysel


    During each day, I keep a list of articles and blogs that I want to read, but don’t have the time…this was one on my list that I just caught up with.

    I have so much respect for what the community refers to as NDD (non-directed donors,)who I continue to refer to as angels.

    In 2010 I helped 7 angels whose gift helped 16 people. I am currently in touch with and helping 14 angels through the process.

    Being the recipient of my wife’s gift, I am unable to imagine being the recipient from an altruistic donor. On behalf of all of those recipients, I thank you and all the others for the Gift of Love you provide.

    Wishing you the best in your journey.


    • melissaarlio


      Thank you so much for reading and for your continued support throughout this process. You’ve been so helpful with the advice and information you’ve given to me, and I think what you’re doing with LKDN is absolutely wonderful!!! So thank YOU for all you have done and continue to do each and every day for the kidney & donor community!!!!

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