About Me

My photo
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Make Life Happen! Welcome to all of you who visit. If you are looking into becoming a Living Donor and would like a detailed idea of my journey..scroll down and begin with the older posts first. I welcome any questions or topics that you would like to know more about.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Importance of Mentoring For Living Donors


It has now been three months since my surgery to donate a kidney. I feel as if I am at 100%! Since my surgery I have been corresponding with four different individuals about my experience. The story I am posting below comes from Robyn Wheatley who is an altruistic donor like myself. Although Robyn had already made her decision to donate a kidney and had been approved as a donor by Northwestern Hospital, she still wanted the opportunity to speak with someone who had actually gone through the process.

She had read the article of my kidney donation in the Naperville Daily Herald and found the link to my blog. She sent an email asking if I would consider meeting with her for coffee one day and of course I was thrilled to say yes. What I find interesting is with all the support of medical knowledge, there is still a great need for anyone who is a living donor to offer to assist others who want to know what to really expect. Understand that I don't mean medical knowledge, this is out of my area of expertise. But I believe that each living kidney donor can greatly assist others who are donating or considering donating by being accessible to them and sharing their journey.

Robyn is an incredibly brave, smart woman and I am honored to have met her. I asked her to write her story to share with others as it is her desire to be a mentor to others.

My Altruistic Living Kidney Donor Story
Robyn Wheatley
July 23, 2010

Yesterday I met the man who now has my left kidney. He had no idea who I was prior to our meeting yesterday, and I had no idea who he was. We were strangers. For both of us, I am confident in saying, our identities and what we looked like did not matter. But, we are no longer strangers. With tears of joy, he and I hugged and exchanged a nervous greeting and shared an appreciation for what had just happened not yet a week prior. His life has been changed in obvious ways, but this process has indeed changed my life in less obvious ways; it has made me re-evaluate the value I place on my own life and relationships. I will be processing this for some time to come. But I’m getting ahead of myself with the story.

On Thursday, July 15 I donated one of my kidneys to a complete stranger, starting off a chain for a kidney swap. (See The Alliance for Paired Donation for more information on how altruistic donor chains work.) I had the surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Very simply, I did this because I can. The decision I made had come after a lot of research and consultation, and much time and effort.

I was inspired to start this process back in March as I read the story of another local man’s recent decision to donate a kidney to a cashier at a food store he frequented over the years. He learned of the woman’s progressively deteriorating health and was made aware of her kidney disease. She had exhausted all possibilities with family members and close friends-no one was a match. The man offered to get evaluated as a potential donor. It turns out that he matched her well, and the rest is history. The woman gets to live a longer, fuller life of many years and will no longer be subjected to the torture of dialysis. That was all I needed to hear. After doing some initial research (of which there is a plethora) I called Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s kidney transplant program. Their reputation precedes them.

I do understand and appreciate that what I have done is unusual. It is not for everyone. As I have shared this news with people I received wonderful support and encouragement; there have been a few looks of puzzlement; and, lastly, there have been many who still can't seem to wrap their heads around why it is I would choose to donate one of my kidneys to someone whose identity is unknown to me, not a family member, not a friend, not even an acquaintance. Regardless of the response, I know that all of the comments come from a place of love and concern, and include people very dear to me.

The transplants were “successful”, and both recipients are doing well. It turns out all of us in both pairings live near and within Chicago's city limits, and we are all in our 30s. The recipient of my kidney laughed and said that his girlfriend, who coincidentally donated her kidney to the recipient in the second pair, when it was found that she was not a match for my recipient, was certain that his donor would be a woman. Well, he said, “she was right.” As we walked out of the transplant center today I said, “Don’t be surprised if you cry more easily now; that may be my influence. I am known to be openly emotional." He assured me he’d take good care of his new, healthy kidney, and I was certain he would-never a doubt, not really something I even pondered to be honest. If anyone would not take a healthy transplanted kidney for granted, it’s someone like these two recipients who have each spent years on dialysis not knowing when, where or if a transplant would ever be a possibility.

As I’m reflecting on the meeting with the recipient of my kidney and the woman in the second pairing I am wishing more people knew the facts about living kidney donation and how little effort was involved relative to the life-changing/life-saving that has been made possible with my left kidney. I would do this again in a heartbeat if I could. The transplant team did all of the hard work with comprehensive evaluation of myself and matching with the recipient and pairs. My hard work came immediately after the surgery, if I can even call it hard work. If I had more kidneys to donate I would do so, it is that powerful. The woman in the second pair of the chain had just had a difficult conversation with the transplant team; she was not sure she had many options left. But, as an altruistic living donor in the equation I was able to indirectly give her back quality and quantify to her life; it has given her back hope and future possibilities. What a small price I paid. My one-pound kidney represents so much more than just an organ and returned functionality to another; it is a gift that my body was able to provide-it is life. And, the gift is not just from me to the then-stranger in need, it is to me as well. It’s reaffirming, makes me want to appreciate my life and everyone I have in it with me, something that’s not come so easily in the recent past. Words seem inadequate to describe the experience.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions or if you are looking to converse with someone who has been through the process:
robynwheatley@yahoo.com

These are other sites you should definitely visit:

Living Kidney Donors Network - lkdn.org
Ok Solo, Angela Stimpson, Altruistic Donor - http://oksolo.blogspot.com/

WTTW Channel 11 Interview:
http://lkdn.org/video.html

3 comments:

angela Stimpson said...

Cara, so glad to hear you feel at 100% now! This is the good news I've been waiting to hear from you.

Robyn's story is very moving. Thank you for sharing that with us!

Anonymous said...

Cara, it was great to see another post from you, especially since it states that you are back to "pre-surgery" status.......so glad to hear that! I also appreciate your posting Robyn's account of her altruistic kidney donation....it is a powerful read.
So glad to know you both are doing well.....

CandiJ said...

Cara,
I saw your post on Josh Rinehult's FB page. He is my donor. I can't begin to tell you how much this means to me - but then, I think you already get a good sense of this. Thank you for being a donor and for getting the word out. And that you for reaching out to Josh!
Candi Johnson