1. Why did you decide to donate your kidney, especially to someone you don’t know?
My wife had donated one of her kidneys to a family friend, which saved/changed that person’s life, so I was familiar with the process. It is a common misconception that we need two kidneys. One kidney is more than enough for healthy people. But since many people are healthy, those who are and can donate a kidney are very much needed.
Unfortunately, people who suffer from kidney problems either die a painful death or are sentenced to a shortened life on 24/7 dialysis. Most have no one to donate for them. The people who do have someone willing to donate often find that the donor is not a match. I was part of a “chain” of 6 people. This allowed people who were willing to donate but did not match their donees to donate to someone else whose donor also was not a match for them. I filled in one of the blanks.
2. What was the most challenging part of the entire process?
First, you go through two half days of testing. Then comes the surgery and three days in the hospital to recover. But it takes another 6 weeks of rest until I’ll be back supposedly to normal. My six-pack is now a bulbous one-pack. And it is very painful. But most people can withstand more pain than they think, and it gets better every day.
3. What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming a donor?
Just get tested. Each year I get all of the standard tests (e.g., cholesterol, etc.) for my physical, but for the transplant they perform every test imaginable. If there was anything wrong with me, I would have found out about it because of those tests. I would have been glad I did it, even for that reason alone. The testing (and everything else) is free. The hospitals and potential recipients pay for it. No one ever even asked me if I had insurance. The hospital treated me like a king.
You may be surprised to know that people who donate kidneys live longer than people who do not. That may be because people who donate are generally healthier physically, but there is no evidence that shows that donating shortens one’s longevity. And, in the unlikely event that my remaining kidney turns out to have issues, I would move to the front of the line to get a new one.
4. Do you have any regrets? Would you do it again?
I should have done it sooner.
5. Anything else you want people to know?
At first I was rather secretive about this and only told a small number of people on a need-to-know basis. But some of my partners found out and thought more could benefit if I shared my experience. As I thought about it I became convinced that by telling my story, about how it really isn’t that bad compared to the benefit to the recipient, perhaps more people would at least get tested. Thousands die each year because there aren’t enough donors. Until my wife did it, I assumed I needed both kidneys. Now I know I have one extra one just taking up space that someone else is literally dying to get.
Here are links to resources where you can learn more about transplants and how to become a donor:
The “worst” that will happen is that you’ll get a lot of free, confidential tests out of it.
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