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  • The Spare Kidney
  • Michael Sauls

My name is Michael Sauls and I am 56 years old. I am Senior Vice President of a business and government relations firm in Washington, DC. My wife of 19 years has spent her entire professional career working in relief and development in many countries of Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Approximately 10 years ago, my older brother, Tim, suddenly experienced kidney failure due to a rare autoimmune disease, Goodpasture Syndrome. The disease is so rare that they had never seen it in our hometown, Fort Myers, Florida where he resides. It came as a complete shock, as he had always been a very active athlete who took great care of his body. Tim was placed on dialysis three times a week for four hours, which obviously dramatically affected his quality of life. He remained on dialysis for approximately two years allowing time for the antibodies which had attacked his kidneys, to die. This lengthy process was necessary in order for there to be an opportunity to accept a donor kidney either from a living donor or cadaver.

All of Tim’s family and friends felt terrible that he had to go through this and the treatment allowed everyone time to consider whether they might wish to become a donor. We have a very close family and our two other siblings and I knew that there might be an opportunity to donate. As the time for donation approached, we three volunteered to be tested and were briefed by the professional personnel about the possibilities of donation and potential consequences. We fully understood the potential risks and could not be dissuaded. We knew that Tim would do the same for us and each of us, independently, without being asked or any discussion, offered to donate. We were tested in Fort Myers by Tim’s medical group and I happened to be the perfect match. For my siblings and me, it wasn’t a difficult decision, especially once we learned that donors live just as long and healthy lives as non– donors. In fact, I learned that Senator Bob Dole had one kidney and one of our relatives was born with one kidney and both lived normal lives. I figured that I had a spare, an extra kidney, and was more than happy to share it with my brother. Honestly, I believe my brother and sister were disappointed they weren’t perfect matches because they sincerely wanted to donate.

Naturally, making this or any other important decision was one which, in fairness, I had to discuss [End Page E6] with my wife, Lynn. When you make that promise in marriage, you have an obligation to ensure that your decisions don’t detrimentally affect your partner. Your body is no longer completely your own. Lynn said that while she might not choose to donate herself, not surprisingly, she was completely supportive of my decision. I don’t know what I might have done if she had asked me not to, but with her blessing and the approval of the rest of the family, the commitment was made.

Once it was determined I would be the donor, assuming I passed a series of examinations, the question became where to have the operations. I live in Alexandria, Virginia and Tim lives in south– west Florida—the decision was made to have the procedures performed at a hospital near my home. At that time, not all hospitals were performing the operations laparosopically, but this hospital was doing them routinely. We contacted them and I began a series of tests to ensure that I was mentally, emotionally and physically able to donate. The psychological tests came first, to ensure that I was fully aware of the risks and accepted them, and that it was highly unlikely that I would back out at the last moment. The psychological testing was followed by a series of physical tests to ensure that my body could handle the operation and have a swift recovery. All of this testing is critical because the very last thing anyone would want would be for the donor to have any serious problems. Fortunately, there were no problems found in...