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On Becoming a Kidney Donor

Just in case you haven’t yet heard, on next Wednesday January 26, I have been given the extraordinary opportunity to donate my left kidney to a woman from my church named Ann. Towards the beginning of last year Ann shared with our church that she was suffering kidney failure and would need a kidney transplant. Since then Ann has gone through multiple tests and fistula surgeries to prepare for dialysis treatments, hoping, as anyone in her situation does, for a transplant.

Before I get into explaining how and why I made the decision to become a kidney donor for Ann, I want to admit that talking about this has proved to be very difficult for me. On the one hand, whenever I do share about the donation process, I am thankful for the support and prayers most everyone has offered for Ann and me. But on the other hand, I get quickly embarrassed by the attention and adulation I’ve received from folks who just want to share their appreciation. That in a nutshell is why I get leery about telling folks that I’m donating a kidney.
As to the question of why I’m doing something like this, it’s simple: I’m donating my kidney to help Ann, and that’s it. My one satisfaction comes from knowing I have the chance to help a friend and sister in Christ. Keeping me from any other lesser motives is Jesus’ admonition that says, “But when you give…, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:3-4). Again, the reward for me comes from the act of giving. So why should I broadcast it and risk further discomfort of the limelight?

I’m sharing my reasoning and decision making for one big reason: that you can understand what goes into a decision like this and discover how viable an option it may be for you or someone you know to be a live organ donor. If my sharing would encourage someone else to donate an organ and give the gift of life to someone else, that more than doubles the satisfaction for me.

Up until learning about Ann’s predicament, I had never before even remotely considered being a living organ donor. But shortly after Ann made her announcement that she would need a kidney transplant, she shared with me that one of her biggest fears is that her blood type is O+ and that there aren’t too many other O+ folks out there, let alone those who would donate a kidney. I thought to myself, “Yeah, I know what you mean. I’m O+, too. We can give to anyone, but only receive from someone of the same type.”

Then an unusual thought came to my mind, “Wait, I am O+. I wonder what’s involved in this whole donation thing.” So, I went to the University of Maryland’s kidney donation site, and looked into it. I learned that donating a kidney is a worthwhile option that is far less evasive and risky for the donor than in used to be. People can live perfectly fine with just one kidney, and the surgery, performed almost entirely laparoscopically, is followed by a short recovery time—just a few weeks!

Then I got to thinking about two people I had gotten to know in the last several years whose lives were saved by receiving an organ donation. One was a former landlord who received a heart transplant. The second was a man from my church who received a living liver donation from his son. In both cases, I saw how difficult it was to find a donor but also how receiving a needed organ saved their lives while returning them to a good quality of life.

When I saw Ann again on a Sunday morning, I asked her if there was a form or application someone would fill out to be a donor. She assured me there was, and when I came into my office the next morning, there was a large brown envelope with an application inside of it sitting right on my desk. So, I looked through it, went home that afternoon and asked Blairlee what she thought, and to my surprise, after looking into it, she was highly supportive.

Then I began the testing process. An initial cross-match test found Ann and me to be an acceptable match. A few months after that I began more intensive testing which included a whole battery of blood tests, a glucose tolerance test, and a urine test to determine my baseline health. Kidney donors need to be in very good condition. At every point in the donation evaluation process, the health and safety of the donor is the primary factor. Nothing would be done to jeopardize the short-term or long-term health of the donor, which has been a great comfort to me. Along those lines, the surgeons made clear to me that I needed to drop some weight, a minimum of 10 lbs. but ideally close to 50 lbs. Thankfully, over these past five months, I’ve almost met the 50 lb. goal and intend to keep losing weight and keep it off in order to take good care of my health and my remaining kidney.

The final part of the donation evaluation was a full day of testing and interviews. Over the course of the day, I was given some education on the donation process, the donor and recipient surgery and the recovery. That was followed by more blood tests, a chest x-ray, a CT scan of my kidneys and surrounding anatomy, a psycho-social evaluation with a social worker, an appointment with my donor surgeon, and a full physical including an EKG. Ann’s husband Dave later quipped that at the very least I got one heck of a physical out of the whole deal!

A few weeks later, a multidisciplinary team looked at all the test results from Ann and me, determined that we were good to go, and set a surgery date. Right now, I can’t wait for us to get to January 26th and have the surgery. For both Ann and me, that will become a hallmark day in both of our lives.

I want to say again how incredibly touched and grateful I feel for the outpouring of love, support, and prayers many of you have offered Ann and me as we prepare for the donation surgery. That has taken what has been a deeply moving process and made it all the more beautiful. Every step along the way, Ann, our families, and I have seen, heard, and felt the presence and leading of God. In recent weeks, we have experienced God in the love so many of you have given us.

Even as strenuous and at times overwhelming the donation process has been, it’s all worth it for nothing else but two reasons: the hope of Ann returning to health with a functioning kidney and to hear others say, “If you can do something like donate a kidney, I could consider doing something like that, too.” That truly makes my joy complete!

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