Sunday, November 16, 2014

I'm going to donate a kidney

Today, GW outed me as his donor on FB. He said,
  "by the way, this cool girl who posted the pic of me and her at the Space Needle, is my donor. Everybody show some love to Sandlin, I owe her my life..." 
 which kinda blew up this picture on my FB feed. I figured I owed my friends a little more explanation.

We did have a great time at the Space Needle.

After living away from my family for some years, I deeply value my ability to care for my loved ones. I know what it feels like when you need help that is does not feel available, and what it feels like to support someone like family, whether they are family or not. It is a pleasure to be able to take action when someone I care about needs it.

In early January, my mom called me to tell me that my sister had been with her boyfriend GW in the hospital for days. His kidneys had failed, due to his lupus, and now he was in a whirlwind of dialysis and stabilizing procedures. My grandmother, the model of a selfless human, had offered her kidney, and that planted a seed for me. I remember sitting in my office, hundreds of miles from my sister, wishing I could DO something- make them dinner, take a shift at the hospital so she could sleep, walk their dogs... any kind of action.

As the next few months progressed, I entered a slippery slope of logic that landed me with a clean bill of a health, approval from the medical review board, and a pending date for a transplant surgery.

I decided I would definitely do something to help, because this would prolong GW's life, and improve the quality of his life. I decided I would do some research on organ donation, so I could help them recruit a donor. This would take almost no effort, and it would help save someone's life.

Once I did some research, I decided I should take an active role in recruiting a donor. This would take a little effort, but would save someone's life.

And then I started to think about who I might ask, and whether they would be able to make informed consent- that is, who would be able to undertake this process and fully understand what they were taking on in terms of personal risk and opportunity. After my research, and frankly, experience as a researcher looking for a drug to help people who are rejecting their kidney transplant, I knew what informed consent would look like. I decided the only way to ask that of someone else, was to really consider it for myself. Would I be willing to donate a kidney to someone I loved? Of course! There is a very limited risk, and it would save someone's life! 

But I need my kidney. Or,.. actually, what am I saving it for? The numbers of people who need kidneys are huge (80,000 people are on a waitlist that ranges from 5-10 years), but this still means I am probably not likely to know someone who needs a kidney until we are all much older. I asked around, were any of my friends and family likely to need a kidney? No? Then what am I saving it for? And like many important decisions I've ever made, I had a moment of realization that, oh, that should be me.

Would I be willing to be laid up for 2-6 weeks, if it could save someone's life? I have a lifelong obligation to stay pretty healthy after surgery, but that's just good advice for everyone. And the other side of the equation is what a difference it would make to GW. The cost to me is significant, but it would save GW's life!

Dialysis has proved to be a constant struggle, punctuated by crises that is simply no way to live life. If he could get a transplant, he'd get his time and energy back. His diet could normalize and he could go back to doing things that he enjoyed, like biking, hiking with his dog, and camping with my sister. It would literally add years to his life, and give him a quality of life that isn't possible on dialysis. That's how I made the decision to be a kidney donor.

I'm still scared. I'm still dreading surgery, and the recovery. I'm still anxious that this might change my life in unexpected ways. But those still seem like small risks compared to the good that I can do.

I have an amazing opportunity to save a life. Not everyone can do this. You have to be in really good health to be an organ donor. You have to be able to make the time for screening, surgery and recovery. I'm lucky, I've got the health, the time, and the support system to be able to do this. And seeing the support GW has from his friends and family makes me feel like I am giving a gift not just to him, but to all of his support system. It is humbling to be counted in the community that has rallied around him.

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