Living Organ Donation
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An Altruistic Living Donor’s Story

During the process of donating a kidney, which involved months of medical testing, and some psychological testing, I began to realize that possibly the hardest part of this process was the lack of acceptance and encouragement that a potential donor receives. The friend that was initially my intended recipient was very excited to receive a kidney. He had put a call out to all of us at work to test, and our employer also published a wellness newsletter with all the testing information. The kidney recipient had not really thought about the ramifications of receiving a kidney from a woman and what that would feel like to his wife. My boss was supportive of me donating a kidney to another person at our workplace, especially this person that was the intended recipient, but was completely appalled that I would continue the process to donate to a stranger, if it turned out that my co–worker could find a better match.

In the end, I did donate to a stranger, as my testing showed me to be an ideal donor. My view is that my whole life has contained a series of events that created an awareness in me to donate, as well as an acceptance of the fact that people can donate an organ and go on to live a very normal life after the donation process. The first event that raised awareness for me was when I was a child—I met a teenager who was on dialysis. During a discussion with him and a follow–up discussion with my mother later, I realized that he would be waiting for years on dialysis. He would miss most of his teenage years, hooked up to a machine, because he needed a kidney and there simply were not that many cadaver kidneys available. My mother, who was an RN, also explained to me that since kidneys are so rare, he would only get one, because all you need is one kidney to survive. My next question was, “Well, if you just need one, why can’t someone just give him one of theirs, before they are dead?”

Of course, at that time, I did not know any living kidney donors, but there were some then, 30–plus years ago, and there were even living kidney donors decades before, even before the doctors and the scientists had discovered as much about how matching works, the anti–rejection drugs work, the surgical instruments were much cruder, and the process was much more risky. My mother told me at the time, 30–something years ago, that maybe an identical twin would work, but with other people, it was not a sure thing.

During my testing and donation process, I did not tell many people that I was planning to donate a kidney. Many of the people I told were not very accepting or encouraging. The main points they made were discussing the possibility of what would happen if one of my own children, I have three, or my husband, I had one at the time, were to need a kidney? The way I saw it, we are all the same blood type and have twice the number of kidneys we need. The other point was what would happen if I died during the surgery and my children were orphaned (two are adults) and my husband was left alone? The chances of dying are so small, and having had surgery before—I knew I recover well, have [End Page 7] a high pain threshold, support at home and other factors that made the post–surgical piece easier for me. Many people mentioned to me stories that they had heard of a living organ donor dying in Colorado and also stories of people receiving an organ and dying from something they contracted from the organ. They asked me how I would feel if I gave my recipient something fatal, which is such a slim possibility due...