April is Donate Life Month: My story as a kidney transplant recipient

April is National Donate Life Month. Donate Life Month is a time for people throughout Illinois and the country to tell personal stories about organ and tissue donation and to encourage people to become organ and tissue donors by joining the Illinois Organ/Tissue Donor Registry.

I am a kidney recipient. I have had two kidney transplants; one in 1986 when I was junior high and another in 2005 (donated kidneys usually do not last the recipient's lifetime- although I have heard awesome stories of kidneys lasting 40 years). I was born with one malfunctioning kidney that continued to deteriorate. According to my mother, I should not have survived past three (I'm not certain if that's embellishment on her part, to be honest). I knew from a young age that eventually I would need a kidney transplant.

I was in junior high when my kidney started to fail. In 1986, my nephrologist (kidney doctor) put me on the transplant list. Back then, children had priority (I do not know if this is true today). So I was on the list a relatively short time when my parents got the call, shortly after midnight, November 5, 1986. I had one of those Diff'rent Strokes bunk beds and I awoke to peer down upon my mother softly crying in my father's arms. The University of Chicago called. It was time. We needed to get the hospital.

I still remember laying in the backseat of my mother's Oldsmobile, hurtling south on Lake Shore Drive- my father stayed behind with my sister- hitting that bump on that bridge in the southbound lanes where my stomach dropped like I was on a roller coaster. How appropriate I remember that moment, looking back 25 years later. Due to my kidney failure, my life was rapidly deteriorating. Due to the most generous gift of a man who died in a motorcycle accident earlier that day, my health eventually stabilized. Because of his gift, I was able to go through life's other peaks and valleys.

I was very private about being a kidney recipient. Having experienced the failure of my kidney and the weakness and fatigue, weight loss, inability to eat, nausea, inability to concentrate, and depression that comes with it, forgetting about that pain when it was over was the easiest way for me to cope. Publically, I lived like it never happened. I was fortunate, because I could live like it never happened most of the time.

I'm sharing my story because there are thousands of men, women and children like me out there. Many of whom need our help. Nearly 5,000 people in Illinois are waiting for lifesaving organ transplants. One in every 20 Americans will need some sort of tissue transplant in their lifetime. It is something that will effect all of us, if not individually, someone you know needs an organ or tissue transplant.

Some of you reading this know me. Some are surprised because you didn't have a clue I was a kidney transplant patient- or can remember being stunned when you found out. I bet if you look around your circle, you'll find others who quietly need an organ or tissue or either have or know someone who has been touched by organ and tissue donation.

And unlike some other horrific diseases, there is something each of us can do. Take a moment to put your name on the organ and tissue registry. Because of a man who put his name on the list 25 years ago- and let his family know his wishes to donate his organs- I was able to live a normal life.

With the help of his gift of a kidney, my parents were able to rest easier, knowing that their child was able to have a chance to live. It's mind-boggling to think about the things I was able to do with my donated kidney. With the help of his gift I was able to graduate high school, college and law school. I was able to not only live life, but taste it, breathe it, swim in it. His gift was there when I had my heart broken; his gift was there when I fell in love; his gift was there when my son was born.

Although the gift was one I publically forgot, privately, this marriage was one that was never far from the front of my mind; albeit, like any good partner, I was able to take it for granted. But without that partner, without that marriage, there is no way my parents would have been able to see me walk across stages or down the aisle. I would not have seen my son born.

It's morbid to think about what could happen if that driver crosses the center line and veers into your lane of travel. Hopefully, that never happens to you or your loved ones. However, if it does, you could help someone like me taste life again. Breathe it. Swim in it. To thrive. To live and love. And know that your gift can power someone to great things, to life and its renewal. I am not only a son and brother, but a husband and father. Because of his gift almost 25 years ago, I get to show my son all that is beautiful- and relearn all that is beautiful by watching his reactions to simple things.

Hopefully, it won't come to pass, but your gift can not only help a transplant patient like me, but his father, mother, sister, aunt uncle and grandparents. The gift will keep giving to a wife, husband, son, or daughter. Hopefully onto his own grandchildren.

It truly is donating life.

http://donatelifeillinois.org

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  • I remember that day in 1986 like it was yesterday and since that day have remained registered as a potential organ donor. Anyone can do the same when they renew their driver's license. All it takes is a signature to give the gift of life.

  • Well, you sold me! I've donated my body to science on my driver's license, I believe, but I'm going to the link you provided to ensure my name is there. Thank you for sharing your story. Had me in tears. Keep on living!

  • Really well done, Brian

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    I donated a kidney to my brother.It was his second and he got to fall in love/ get married and have 2 sons because of my gift.
    He's not the lucky one I was,people say that it was generous of me to donate my kidney however I was his big sister and i was just taking care of him.
    The kidney I gave my brother only lasted 5 years before it failed and if I could spare another one I would...
    By choosing to donate 1 person can save a lot of lives!

  • In reply to Tonya Victor:

    Thanks Tonya for reading, commenting and particularly, helping your brother. I am sad to hear the kidney failed. I don't have words for it, because I try to ignore my transplant-- so I'm not in constant fear of rejection/failure. To find the words would force me to think about it; not thinking about it has served me pretty well as a defense mechanism for as long as I can remember.

    I hope that makes sense.

    I hope your brother is doing well, all things considered.

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