- Surgery for the Soul
Standing in the darkened room, I feel the warm gel against my skin. I gently sweep the transducer across the left side of my abdomen. The familiar sausage shaped spleen appears on the screen. Only this time no bean shaped organ lies below it. My left kidney, transplanted into my [End Page 9] brother, now filters toxins for a new host. Do my organs feel as unbalanced and vulnerable as the rest of me? Will I ever be proud of my scar or will I always feel this immense sense of sadness? A small tear rolls down my cheek as I recall lying on the hospital gurney like a sacrificial lamb under the knife.
Three years ago I received a phone call from my brother that would change both our lives forever. “My doctor told me to call my family and ask them for a kidney because I am in kidney failure,” he said. Just like that. No background information. No sugar coating. No nonsense. He must have practiced a hundred times before he picked up the phone to dial. But let’s face it, is there really an accepted protocol for someone desperately seeking an organ?
I had always considered becoming an organ donor. I just thought I’d be brain dead when it happened. Never in a million years did I think a family member would need a kidney. To my knowledge, my three siblings and I were pretty healthy. No high blood pressure, no diabetes, no serious cancers. Unbeknownst to us, my seemingly healthy brother had been under the care of a nephrologist for the past two years. He hadn’t had a definitive diagnosis until his blood work came back abnormal. A biopsy confirmed that his kidneys had shut down due to an auto immune disease. This 36–year–old husband and father of two small boys now faced dialysis or transplantation and he was desperately calling me for help. I could hear it in his voice.
“What blood type are you?” I asked, dreading his response. “Type O” he replied. I knew then that I was his donor. I suspected, as siblings we would be a partial match. Further blood tests revealed that we were a perfect match. Each one of my six human leukocyte antigens (HLA) matched up with Jonathan’s perfectly. One of his nephrologists told me that we are as close as you get without being twins. This certainly pleased my brother and his doctors, as it was advantageous for a successful transplant. It thoroughly scared me.
“What if I have this disease or something like it”? I selfishly thought. “Or even worse, what if one of my children gets this disease?” I secretly imagined. Will I be able to deal with the aches and pains of aging without anti inflammatory medications? If I need diagnostic tests will my lone kidney be able to handle the nephrotoxic agents? The “what ifs” piled high up in my head and I thought to myself, “There is no way I will be able to get on that operating table”. Taking risks is not one of my fortes. I don’t gamble; don’t even know how to buy a lottery ticket. I’m a self prescribed boring goodie two –shoes. I hate change, can’t stand not being in control. My type A neurotic personality can’t handle crisis. In life we are afforded so few opportunities to do the right thing. I didn’t want to let this one slip by.
The testing process continued mostly because I felt too guilty to back out. Secretly, I kept hoping that through the medical testing something would come up to disqualify me as a donor. I wasn’t praying for a critical illness but a small bout of a curable disease seemed like a good out. The psychologist explained to me that I could decline to donate and they would tell my brother that a medical issue came up during testing which disqualified me as a donor. That plan may work for people who never have to see each other again. But families are forever connected even with the feelings...