“I Will Love You and Cherish You, All the Days of My Life.”

My husband Robb and I recently celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary.  We’re at 10,950 days and counting.  As our relationship has matured, the fleeting symbols of romance associated with Valentine’s Day—flowers, candy, expensive candlelit dinners—have become less important as the challenges of everyday living have redefined how we express love.

I have devoted much of my life to providing what Robb needs most.  I have been his advocate, caregiver and coach through multiple serious health issues and surgeries, including a kidney/pancreas transplant in 1999. Robb has enjoyed more than 4,500 insulin- and dialysis-free days thanks to a stranger who signed an organ donor card.

Despite a successful transplant, his diabetes complications continued to progress.   In 2010, Robb was forced to halt his career as a university project manager due to a cognitive disorder caused by narrowed blood vessels in his brain.  I help him to make sense of things he now finds more challenging due to diminished communications skills and slower processing abilities.  He helps me by handling routine tasks to keep our home in order and through his new-found interest in cooking.  We’ve adapted our relationship to love what is, not how we wish it might be.

It may seem strange, but the best gift my husband ever gave me was new tires. I rarely pay attention to my car.  Without my knowing, Robb took my car and bought me four new tires that were so shiny and new, I actually did notice them.  I was touched that he cared so much about me and my safety.  He saw something that I really needed and he provided it, without being asked.  Isn’t that what love is all about—caring enough to recognize a need and to fulfill it, even at great cost?

That’s why I decided to give my spare kidney to a stranger.  Through Robb’s transplant experience, we met so many people who were waiting for a kidney.  I knew that I had what they needed most—a spare, healthy kidney.  I decided to emulate the love of Robb’s donor by sharing myself with someone who really needed me.  I will never regret my decision to give my right kidney to the stranger who is now my dear friend.

Much of life involves adaptation, just as my relationship with my husband has evolved to meet one another’s spoken and unspoken needs. By giving my husband my attention and by sharing my second kidney with a stranger in need, I have been able to make a difference in the lives of two special people in distinct ways.

We all make an impact on others, whether we realize it or not. This Valentine’s Day, celebrate your own interpretation of love and romance, and consider how you make a difference in someone else’s life. Your attention to unspoken needs could be the Valentine’s Day present that would be most appreciated.   What better day to think about the gift of life and to learn more about living donation?  You may just have what someone else needs to celebrate many more holidays and lots more ordinary days, too.  Click here to get started.