This week, the week I am finally starting my blog, it’s becoming more intimate, more real. A sample of my blood is being mixed with the blood of the person who has been chosen to receive my left kidney, as a final test to insure compatibility. God willing, the transplant will happen the first week in April, along with a handful of others in a new kidney chain.
Monday, as I was pulling into the driveway after having the blood drawn, I thought how I really need to take good care of my body! It’s not just myself that is counting on it now. Is this a bit like part of what a pregnant woman feels?
My wife thought I was kidding. Then crazy. One Saturday morning last Spring, as we both lay awake, I broached an idea that had been mulling around in my mind for years. She had to be told, and no more putting it off.
“Well, dear, there’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while.”
“We’re too old to have another child,” Mary Beth replied.
“You’re right. But this does have to do with health and biology.”
There was a short pause. “You’re… going to donate a kidney.”
This surprised me. “Bingo! You got it right away!”
“You’re kidding. Now tell me.” After 25 years of marriage, Mary Beth knows me pretty well. “What are you really thinking?”
But this time there was no kidding. I mentioned the article I read three years earlier, about a person who received a kidney from a living donor she didn’t know. Then the kidney chains I read about, in which such a donation can go to someone who has a willing donor who doesn’t match but is willing to “pay it forward” to anyone if their loved one gets a kidney. Then the 88,000 plus Americans that are on the waiting list for a kidney, and how every day, for lack of one, several of them die.
I told Mary Beth how I was just a year away from 60. My biological clock was ticking.
She noticed I said all this without my tell-tale laughter. “You are serious! I just mentioned kidney donation because it was the craziest thing I could think of.”
I skipped over how I hoped to get perhaps some fulfillment, some satisfaction, through an act commonly described as altruistic. How perhaps this is from taking stock of my aging life with all its unfulfilled dreams, irreparable screw-ups, and clutter. Physical and mental clutter. To do lists of things undone. Major initiatives crowded out by minor details. Perhaps a focus on this goal could help me transcend a load of discontent in my life, and remind me to be grateful.
I skipped all that because at the time I wasn’t aware of it. I hadn’t yet reflected much on the inevitable “Why are you doing this?” I hadn’t yet attempted to write down an honest answer.
Instead, I stuck with the mechanics, stuff learned online, about how the donation could happen at a transplant center right here in New Jersey, with just the kidney flying off to wherever needed. How it would be minimally invasive, and probably require only a couple days or so in the hospital. How my remaining kidney would grow in size to handle what two kidneys do. How my life expectancy would stay the same. How for the most part my lifestyle would not change, since I don’t box or skydive.
“No chance you’d ever skydive? Good,” said Mary Beth.
I mentioned my interest in writing, and that this might be something to blog about. I explained how there would be a lot of tests.
“Well, maybe you wouldn’t pass the tests.” In her voice was the sound of hope. “Why, you can’t even donate blood!” That was a low blow. It has pained me for years that my blood is always rejected on suspicion of hepatitis, AIDS, or what not. But follow-up tests have always cleared this taint, not that that ever mattered the next time I tried to donate.
My mind raced with the anxious realization that Mary Beth had to have full veto power. Like our engagement, her affirmative answer came before she was asked. But it wasn’t worded the same way.
“Well, dear, if you really want to do this, I won’t stand in your way.”
It reminded me how much I love her.
In the ten months since that morning, our children too have consented and all tests have been passed. A living donor transplant center has cleared me to donate through the National Kidney Registry.
Will that person get a kidney and a new chain begin? That is my hope. Will I get what I want out of this? To a large degree, I already have.
Thanks, Ray for taking the time to write about your brave journey. Your thoughts about taking stock of your life — unfulfilled dreams, lists of things undone — brings tears to my eyes for having those exact same feelings. As a child, I always looked up to you for 1) just paying attention to your younger and therefore pesky cousin and 2) all the really cool stuff you showed me about ants — so your courage in doing this makes me realize what a great guy I choose to admir! You, Mary Beth, your kids will be in my prayers.
Thanks Ray for sharing your courageous story! My kid brother made this ultimate sacrifice/decision at the tender young age of 21 and we have both lead wonderful and fulfilling lives ever since – 35 years ago this year! I’m actually at a loss of words to best describe someone that would make this ultimate life-saving sacrifice and then take the steps to follow their heart – especially to help someone they don’t know and have never met – amazing, unbelievable, miraculous..don’t even come close. All I can say, from someone on the receiving side, is thank you so much and a special thanks to your wife and family for also sharing in this most wonderful gift of life.
Thanks for your kind words. You are however too generous. I’ve been blessed with good health, so why not? It’s nothing compared, for example, to what a loved one and a friend are going through fighting prostate cancer and chronic lyme disease. They are truly courageous for how they are keeping their faith through battles with their illnesses going on now for years.
It is wonderful to hear stories like yours of the long-term success of kidney transplants. 35 years – wow!
Ray, Thank you so much for your courage to share your self and your hopes and dreams on this blog. I admire your willingness to help others that are not as lucky as you have been and suffering from kidney disease. My brother’s kidney failed about a month ago and I was so scared and then the thought popped into my mind – “perhaps Ray can give my brother his kidney!” I must admit it consoled me, thank God he recovered and didn’t need your generous gift. None the less, someone’s brother or sister will receive it which will give that lucky person new life! May God bless you, Mary Beth and your kids as you make this dream a reality in April. The world is a better place because you are in it.
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