Before Howard got sick, I had never considered living donation. Like most people, I knew so little about the process and how life-changing it could be for someone I love. But what if more people understood that they had the power to save a life? During National Donate Life Month, which highlights the need for organ donation across the country, I’m reaching out to share my story in hopes that it will inspire others to take action.
Diagnosed in 2008 with Amyloidosis, a rare blood disease that caused his kidneys to fail, my brother-in-law’s quality of life and his options for treatment were quickly running out. I watched as this once healthy, active and vibrant person struggled to cope with a rigorous dialysis regimen. But my real impetus to become a living kidney donor came when my sister, Howard’s partner, was rejected as a viable option for transplant. I remember sitting in the kitchen with my son at the time and hearing the desperation in his voice when he asked, “Isn’t there anyone else who can donate?” Little did he know, I had already begun the testing process.
I didn’t want to get Howard’s hopes up, and I knew that he would have said no, so I began my testing largely in secret. Being evaluated to become a living donor was eye-opening; I assumed you had to be 25 and in the peak of health to donate – a misconception that I’m sure many Americans have. Throughout the process I never felt pressured. In fact, the doctors and social workers continually reassured me that I could change my mind at any time. My well-being, both physical and psychological, was always their priority.
In June of 2013, I participated in a swap program through Mt. Sinai Hospital and donated my kidney to a complete stranger so that Howard could also receive his perfect match. Swap, or paired exchange programs, are so valuable because they allow patients to receive a kidney even when they aren’t a match for their intended donor. But more people need to know that options like this exist when their loved ones are suffering.
I hope you’ll consider making a contribution to NKF in honor of Donate Life Month, supporting their ongoing efforts to make more kidneys available for transplant.