By Gary Anderson
On March 27, 2009 my wife Jean and I arrived at the Altoona, Wisconsin home of my kidney donor to meet him for the first time.
My journey to this doorstep began in 1994, when I first learned I had kidney disease. However, this news was overshadowed by additional news that I had also developed non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. While receiving treatments for the lymphoma, I initiated changes in my life in an effort to extend the life of my kidneys. A recurrence of the lymphoma occurred in 1999, but was successfully treated. Meanwhile, my kidney function continued to decrease and I was eventually placed on the transplant waiting list in 2005. In April 2008, I found myself preparing for the dialysis that was expected to begin the next month. But with God's blessing, my life was changed by a telephone call from the Mayo Clinic's Transplant Center at the end of April. I was being scheduled for a transplant the first week of May.
I was told a non-directed donor made this transplant possible, an individual I did not know or had ever met—a complete stranger! This individual had contacted the Mayo Clinic expressing a desire to provide the gift of a kidney in an effort to help someone in need. I was informed that I was a match. The thought of this person's generosity left Jean and me overwhelmed with tears of happiness for this opportunity.
Following a successful transplant, we looked forward to the day when we might have the opportunity to meet my donor to express my appreciation. That day finally arrived in November, when the donor and I were provided the opportunity to exchange names and contact information. I learned my donor's name was James Gordon, a recently retired paper mill worker living in Altoona, Wisconsin. Soon after, we spoke by telephone. It was difficult during this first conversation to express the full extent of my thoughts and feelings for his act of generosity. We followed up on our call, sharing a desire to meet.
On the morning of March 27, Jean and I were standing at James' door, waiting in anticipation of meeting this extraordinary individual and his family. James greeted us with a big smile and a warm welcome. All the nervousness and anxiety we had been feeling disappeared the moment James opened his door. There was an immediate sharing of excitement and joy in meeting each other. Over the next couple of days, we spent time getting to know each other, sharing our experiences, meeting James' family and friends, and hearing James explain how he made his fateful decision to become a donor. It was a very meaningful time for Jean and me, as we were able to express our gratitude to James in person for his unselfish act and generosity that has provided me this gift of life.
In preparing for our return back to our home in North Dakota, I left knowing James and I will always share a bond and will continue to stay in touch and share time together. James considers himself just a regular guy who saw a need, gave, and expected nothing in return. But to me and my family, James is a hero who will always remain in our thoughts.
Editor's Note: When non-directed donors give a kidney, they do so with the understanding the recipient may never try to get in touch or acknowledge their act of donation. However, recipients are encouraged to request the NKF brochure: Writing to Donor Families and Living Donors: A Simple Guide for Organ or Tissue Transplant Recipients #13-60-0636 to help get them started in acknowledging the gift. It includes information about writing to non-directed living donors.