All Stories

Betty – Living Donor

This was almost a forty year long wish. It started back in the early 70’s, when I was a Patient Aide at a hospital on the Urology and General Surgery floor.
I took care of men having prostate surgery, gallbladder and hernia patients, ‘open and close’ surgeries, which meant they were full of cancer.

Back then, before CAT and PET scans, and MRI’s were not around, things were harder on people. Gallbladder surgery involved a minimum two-week hospital stay. Poor prostate guys were there about the same time. The cancer people? We had to check charts VERY carefully, because more often than not, the patient was not told the diagnosis. That’s a whole ‘nother story.

But the patients who got to me were the kidney patients. I discovered that kidney disease affected a wide range of people; and had nothing to do with lifestyle choices. They became friends, because of frequent hospitalizations.   The goal was always to get their function up to 13%, because then, no dialysis. They were mostly limited to drinking less than 12 ounces of liquid daily. Salt? Potassium? HA!
So, they ate bland food, were always thirsty, had to protect the arm that the dialysis port was in, and spend a lot of time in the hospital.

I remember one of my favorite patients, a fourteen-year-old girl tell me that since she only had to pee once every two or three days, that she never worried about lines for the bathroom.

I ached at the unfairness of it all.

That was when I decided to give up a kidney.

Now, my life went on, I married, had kids, gained weight, got divorced, gained more weight…and still thought about people imprisoned by their feckless disease.  In March of 2009, I was utterly ashamed that I gave up my own health by my poor eating habits, so underwent weight loss surgery. And one year and over 100 pounds later, I celebrated my ‘new’ self.
I was healthy again! Normal blood levels, no sleep apnea, so much more energy! A miracle of modern science.

And yet…

I was healthy thanks to admittedly a severe and radical surgical procedure. I started to research donating a kidney.
The process was a lot easier, and more successful than back in the 70’s. I would only be in the hospital overnight. It wouldn’t cost me a penny. I would save someone.

Oh, there were hurdles, and processes, and tests, and more tests, and visiting more types of professionals that I ever had. They wanted to make sure that I:
1) Wasn’t coerced
2) Wasn’t crazy.

I remember the day at the NYC hospital going from test to test, pretty much the same time as a tall Hasidic Jewish man accompanied by his Rabbi. I wanted so badly to talk to him, compare notes- who was he wanting to donate to? Why did he decide? But here I was with my painted toenails and flip flops, tan from the Arizona sun, baggy shorts and t shirt…nope, didn’t have the nerve.

Obviously, I’m writing this because I passed the crazy test, and I was healthy enough to withstand the surgery, and my kidney was in great shape.

So, in August of 2014, “Lefty” became the property of a man that I met that day. I was so happy to see him the next day, sitting in a chair, reading the newspaper, urine bag full of the beautiful output.
So funny- the day of surgery, I thought he might die before we finished. That’s how sick he was.
The next day, he looks great, and I felt like I might have been thrown from a moving clown car. But I felt better the next day, and each day was better. Back at work after two weeks.

This nice man, with the lovely wife, kids and grand kids, was now free from dialysis. He could travel, spend time with friends. Enjoy his family. He became a surrogate big brother to me.

He died last spring.

His family didn’t know how to tell me. I didn’t know how to feel. I failed- my kidney didn’t make him live happily ever after.
However, his grandson, who was five when the transplant happened, now will have happy memories of his Grandpa. His children told me about the extra GOOD time they had.
While I felt a failure, I neglected to consider that four good years is a lot of time when only illness prevailed.
Who am I to measure a life, anyway? Not my job.
Would I do it again? IN A HEARTBEAT. I’m only curious as to why more people don’t do it? I seriously don’t get it. In a way, it’s like childbirth…you don’t feel so great, but look what comes of it!

In a heartbeat.