Four Soldiers

By Marilyn Lara-Puccio, kidney recipient

Four kidneys are a lot to ask for in one lifetime. But that is just what I am blessed enough to have received…and never once did I actually have to ask. In a 14…year span, four kidneys have been generously donated to me by a family so unselfishly loving that even my transplant medical team remains baffled by my good fortune.

If you're not yet amazed by this Tale of Four Kidneys, consider the statistics for organ donation in this country. According to Donate Life America about 18 people die every day while waiting for a transplant and as of August 2009, the United Network for Organ Sharing reported that 80,975 people were on the kidney transplant waiting list…are you amazed now?

That my father would, in his 60s, voluntarily step into what he was warned would be a painful procedure so that his daughter could live free of a dialysis machine, is humbling. My surgeon told him if he really wanted to give a kidney, he should stop smoking. He did on that very same day.

Five years later when my kidney failed, my aunt, my godmother in every sense of the word, left her three children in the care of her husband to subject herself to the same surgery my father had undergone. As a woman of true faith in God, she handed over her fears and sailed through. It was 1996.

These two silent soldiers alone would provide ample fodder for fiction, but 108 days before my much planned, much anticipated wedding, my kidney failed. I remained steadfast in my selected date of April 22, 2001 for my wedding, having already given a deposit and determined to have a celebration.

It was 2001. A fancy new word in the transplant arena, laparoscopy, was making the rounds in hospital hallways everywhere. This less invasive method would grant some much-deserved comfort to those considering donation. It makes a remarkable difference. Before, donation could mean spending a week or two in the hospital and months to recover. Now, it is reduced to a day or two in the hospital and just weeks to recover.

My fiancé and his sister tested for donation, but neither was a match. Obviously, I had chosen to become a part of a family as equally giving as my own. Although they did not match, I knew they would be there for me no matter what.

Once again, another soldier stepped up to the plate. This time it would be my brother who had been too young to donate previously. Cracking jokes and making small talk right up until he was wheeled into surgery, he gave up one of his kidneys so that I may live. At my wedding, I asked the DJ to play a special song for him and me to dance. It was Celine Dion's “Because You Loved Me”. I could not see through my weeping eyes during that dance, but from what I am told, the entire reception hall of guests was in tears as well.

We had hoped that the match between brother and sister would allow this transplanted kidney to last, but it was not to be. In the fourth year of my marriage, the demons that circulate my body and wreak havoc on my organs returned and no manner of aggressive anti-rejection treatment would suffice to make it go away.

Falling sicker and sicker each day in the last days of 2004, a search for a fourth donor would take me across oceans and continents for relatives abroad. Sadly, that hope for an organ from afar would not be realized.

Instead, quietly and quite unexpectedly, a little boy I grew up loving had become a young man of abundant substance and integrity. The youngest son of that same amazing godmother who had given of herself years earlier simply said, “There is no need for me to be hogging up two kidneys when I only need one to live.” It was 2005.

In went my fourth angel-soldier to place himself in harm's way to save my life, yet again. Following the fourth now-familiar surgery, still groggy and incoherent from anesthesia, I opened my eyes to see my angel standing before me, as if nothing had happened. A young, healthy man with a heart too large for his six-foot frame, smiled and said: “The nurse told me to walk around. Who else was I going to visit in the hospital?”

There were smiles from me and smiles from him, and the still incomprehensible understanding between us that he was given the gift of health and chose to share it with someone who was not. This is the very essence and undeniable meaning of giving life.

It is 2009 and I am doing well.

Marilyn lives in New Jersey with her husband Joe.