Helping to Save My Mayor's Life: Donating My Kidney in a Heartbeat

By Kim Dickens
A little more than a year ago, I was sitting and talking with a group of close friends and one of them mentioned that he needed a kidney. It was former DC Mayor, Marion S. Barry Jr., who was on dialysis. I decided right away what I was going to do. Without reservation, I offered to donate one of my kidneys.

All I thought about was being able to help extend his life. Since that split second when I said yes to donation, both of our lives have changed for the better. Although he's now a City Councilman, to me Marion Barry is always my mayor. He was given another chance at life and I've had the awesome experience of giving life to a man who can now continue giving so much to the residents of the District of Columbia.

The clock soon started ticking on our extensive preparations for the donation process. I was first tested to see if I was a match and, fortunately, I was. Doctors then had me embark on a lengthy battery of tests to ensure that I was a good candidate for donation. They needed to know that I was healthy and that donating a kidney would not jeopardize either my health or that of my friend. Over the next year, they continued the tests and monitored my health. Before I knew it, the day of the surgery arrived.

While I didn't have any regrets, I was a bit nervous. I wasn't nervous for myself, but rather for my friend. On the day of the transplant, Marion and I had not communicated with one another. After being admitted and prepped for surgery in our separate rooms, we both began asking to see each other.

Just before being wheeled into the operating room, the attendants put our gurneys side-by-side. I was so happy to see him. It was at this moment that my fears and nervousness disappeared. There is something so wonderful about my mayor's indomitable spirit that allows him to be fearless. When our eyes met, a sense of calmness and peace washed over me. He gave me his famous wide smile and said, "Hey Kimmie Kim." We laughed and talked for about 10 minutes while about 5 or so operating room staffers looked on. I started making fun of him, joking about how he looked without his dentures in his mouth. He laughed and then started talking about how good he feels about what was about to happen to us.

Suddenly, we heard a voice say, "It's time to go in, the doctor is waiting".

I then turned completely over on my right side to face him and asked him to promise me that I will see him after the surgery. He promised and we both blurted out, "I love you."

My surgery was about six hours and Marion's took about eight hours. As a woman of faith, I had prayed that we would both emerge healthy. Within three days, I was released from the hospital and about a week later, I was back to my regular routine of working and taking hot yoga classes.

Today, both of us are living healthy, energetic lives. This experience has opened my eyes to the importance of being a living donor and especially an African American living donor. I am now on a personal crusade to educate people about being a living donor, particularly those in the black community. In the District of Columbia alone, there are about 1,600 residents in need of kidney transplantation.

Many times, family and friends are not found to be a match for a prospective transplant recipient but, it doesn't mean that's the end. For those who are registered donors, the outcome can still be positive. It is possible to participate in what's called paired exchange or donor chain. This is where strangers who are a match for each other's loved ones, swap the organs. The end result: the donor's relative or friend gets a life extension.

I'm thrilled to participate in the NKF's END THE WAIT! campaign launched at the beginning of 2009 as a comprehensive action plan designed to end the wait for a kidney transplant in the U.S. To learn more about the campaign, including ways you can help, click here.

For more information about living donation, visit www.livingdonors.org