My Chance to Make a Difference

By Melissa Casebere

This is how I saw it…I had the chance to save a life. My uncle—my mom’s only brother and my cousin Claire’s only father—needed a new kidney, and I had two. In college I had studied dietetics (diet and nutrition). Dialysis and kidney disease were interesting to me, at least from a nutritional standpoint. Maybe because I had a family connection, or maybe because diet plays such a huge role in managing the disease, I felt like I could really make a difference in someone’s life. I wanted to work as a renal dietitian, but my career went in another direction.

Fast forward a few years to when I received an e-mail from my aunt asking the family to consider being a living donor for her brother. I don’t remember thinking about it for very long, I just remember wanting to do it. I had a conversation with my uncle a few months earlier and he told me that his first transplanted kidney was starting to show signs of slowing down but I had not expected things to progress so quickly. He also shared with me how much he dreaded going back on dialysis.

After expressing interest in being a donor, I was contacted by a member of his medical team to set up an appointment for me to have my blood drawn to test and see if I was a good match. I was living in Minneapolis at the time and was able to see a local doctor for this part of the process. A few other family members also were being tested. After the blood draw, it was just a waiting game to see who would be the best match.

I was not a good match; in fact I was a “mismatch”. My understanding of “mismatch” was that there was an antibody in the tissue of his current kidney that his body was rejecting and my blood contained that same antibody. So the chances of my kidney being rejected by his body were high. Fortunately, an excellent match was found within our family!

The only part of the process that gave me any pause was the option of participating in a kidney swap of sorts. I would donate to someone who was a match and in turn, my uncle would receive a kidney from another stranger. I think it’s human nature to have to think a little harder about this avenue. Who will my kidney go to? How can I be sure my uncle will get a kidney? I would like to think that if that became our only option, I would have willingly given my kidney to a stranger. After all, that stranger is someone’s beloved family member. I would hope and pray with all my might if it were my family member, someone would do it for me.