April is National Donate Life Month and April 7th is living donor day. Since I am a living donor, I thought it was a great day to post about my experience and give you some fast facts about being a living kidney donor!
It was June 23, 2009 when I climbed onto an operating table at Mayo in Rochester and became a living kidney for my brother-in-law, Andrew. He is my husband's brother. The transplant in 2009 was Andrew's second transplant. The first was a living kidney donation from his father almost twenty years earlier. At this point, when that kidney began to fail (twenty years is a long time for a transplanted kidney. 10-12 years is average), Andrew's only related living donor option was my husband, who began the extensive work-up for the transplant. It was then that an unknown health condition was discovered, and he was disqualified by Mayo as a donor. This happens more than you think, actually. More than 75% of people who want to donate can't due to a variety of different reasons be it health or financial. As a medical transcriptionist, I already knew that might be the case, so I got tested to see if we were a basic match. I was more than a little surprised to find out we were. Since we were already at Mayo, I agreed to undergo the initial workup and it was determined that I was a near perfect match. I had no health conditions to disqualify me, so we were given a green light for donation. After zero consideration, we scheduled the date for June 23. That's only partially true. There was plenty of consideration but there was no hesitation. I wanted my children to know their uncle and if he was on dialysis, sick, or died while waiting on the transplant list, they would never get that chance. I would do whatever I could do to make sure that didn't happen. Besides, I had a spare I didn't need. ;)
I learned a lot on that journey about myself and my family. Some good, some not so good, but all important lessons. Transplant day was a scary day, a happy day, a day of pain, a day of worry, a hopeful day, a new day, and a day I will never forget. I learned that persistence gets things done, love wins, do unto others, and it is better to give than to receive. I learned that our kids watch what we do more than they listen to what we say. I learned that one decision we make often starts a ripple effect in our life that we aren't expecting. In the twelve years since the transplant, my brother-in-law has finished his master's degree in art education, found a full-time job as an art teacher in his hometown, and bought a house. While he still deals with many health conditions related to his chronic kidney disease, he is able to mostly live his life on his terms and see his nieces and nephews grow up, graduate, and go off to college. I find satisfaction in knowing I had a 5 ounce part of helping him achieve those things, but nothing more. He has done the hard work over the years and while he will still need another transplant at some point in his life, I feel privileged to have been part of his life in this way.
It would be remiss if I didn't point out that there are always risks involved in any type of surgery or medical procedure. Agreeing to be a living kidney donor carries some risk with it, as any medical procedure does.
Even if you can't be a living donor right now, remember that you can still donate life! Visit Donate Life's website for more information on how to sign up as a donor and the best way to let your family know you want to be a donor should something happen to you unexpectedly. Every ten minutes another person is added to the transplant waiting list and twenty people die each day waiting for a transplant. While that sounds depressing, there is good news! One organ, eye, and tissue donor can change the lives of 75 people! Whether a person in need of a transplant gets one from a living donor or a deceased donor, their lives will improve 100 fold and that family will be part of your legacy too. It's so important that you tell your family, though. If they don't know your wishes about organ donation, they'll be less likely to agree when faced with loss and grief. You can visit The National Donate Life Registry as well for ways to make sure your family and your doctors know your wishes.
I hope this information has helped clarify what it means to be a living donor and how you can change someone's life by sharing your spare. If you have questions or you're considering being a living kidney donor, feel free to message me through the website or contact me on social media. I'm always happy to answer questions or put you in touch with someone who can. Living donation changes lives in untold ways and being a living donor gives you a change to experience that firsthand.
Katie Mettner wears the title of 'the only person to lose her leg after falling down the bunny hill' and loves decorating her prosthetic leg to fit the season.
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