Keith Donates to His Brother

My name is Keith. I donated a kidney when I was 37 years old to my brother Eli who was 39 years old. He is a great guy. He is always the first to offer help to anyone. Never speaks ill or slanders anyone. He just got a raw deal in life. We are a very healthy family with 13 siblings, but only my brother Eli seemed to have health issues. When he was a teenager he started having nasal drips which required surgery and then developed allergies to wheat. I was used to hearing about his problems. So when he told me that he might need a Kidney I made nothing of it. I assumed it is just another thing among the many issues he already has.

But then 2 months later my mother called. “I just want you to know that Eli probably needs a kidney. He is very upset so try to give him support.” The words just came out of my mouth, “Tell him he can have mine”. My mother responded very coolly, “That is nice. But your 3 older brothers already offered.” I remember an angry feeling welling in me. “So what!? I still have the equal right and just because they were told before me does not give them priority status”. I understood later that my parents really did not want me to be the donor. They were concerned for the stress it may cause on my own wife and children.

We then found out that insurance pays for 5 people to be tested and that genetic markers would decide who the best match is. We all were tested. Waiting for the results was excruciating painful. The answers were delayed and then again delayed. The waiting and uncertainty was the hardest part. Finally, I got through to the Donor coordinator and she said, “You are a perfect match”! I recall the thrill (and fear) and I said “I am so happy”. She then responded “now slow down. There is another one who is also a perfect match and I cannot tell you who. All the potential donors have to discuss and coordinate who will come forward first for the next stage of testing”. After talking with the other brothers I understood that the results had shown that my brother Arnold and I were perfect matches! John and Sam were matched in 4 markers. I called my parents and said, I” I don’t care what Arnold says. I am the Donor”. To which my father said coolly, “Arnold said the same thing. I am going to speak to a religious arbitrator to decide who comes first. I was so dejected and said, “Tell him that I said that I am the donor- Period”. I hung up the phone angry at my father for not allowing me to argue my case for myself before the arbitrator but I respect him and would not contradict him. The arbitrator decided that Arnold comes first because he is older and there has the rights of an elder child. He added that since I had a special child and was younger my family is more dependent on me so I should be the last one to go into danger. I was frustrated but was at peace knowing t was not me who backed down.

This break time gave me time to think as to why I jumped so quickly to offer a kidney. I did not feel I was sacrificing. I did not feel I was a hero and saving a life. I did feel that my brother needed a kidney and that this was a natural decision. Nothing special -just natural. I was reminded of a story I read. During the Korean War some American soldiers on patrol spotted a 12 year old Korean boy pulling his ill 10 year old brother on a sack. The ill brother was too weak to walk. Several hours later they again spotted the 12 year old brother pulling the 10 year old brother. They said, “Little boy isn’t he heavy”? He responded, “He is not heavy- He is my brother”! I too felt that I was not doing anything difficult. He is my brother and it is a natural thing to do.

Any after Arnold went to get tested he failed his glucose tolerance test. I got a phone call you are next. Then he calls me and says relax. I am getting retested. He passed the second time. We assumed it was final. Then he went to the third stage of testing. They picked up some odd results and then sent him for a biopsy on his kidney which came back showing he cannot donate. I was back in the ball game!

My wife and children were very encouraging in this process. My wife and I had several discussions as to whether she was comfortable with it. Although I was passionate to donate I was careful to allow my wife to veto. We discussed how the scar tissue would look etc. but she said something very nice. “I would be very proud of such a scar. It would not bother me at all”. But I made sure to let her know that I perceive us as a team and that it would be her donation as well as mine. She would also suffer along with me and deal with the recuperation. She thought it over and gave her approval to move ahead. Only after we decided to move ahead did we allow the children to know. They were very proud of their Dad and prayed hard for the success of the surgery.

Then John called. “I want to be the donor also. I know that you are a perfect Donor but you have to look at the whole picture. I am already a grandfather. My prime is behind me. You are still young. You have a special child and your wife is dependent on you. I believe that looking at the whole picture I am the best suited to be the donor.” Needless to say I was upset. After consulting with nephrologists they said they want my kidney. I was relieved.

But by now I realized that the process was very complicated. It took 2 months to rule Arnold out and I knew it can take months to approve my kidney. The second stage went by uneventfully. I had to travel to the transplant enter to be tested. While there I was able to join my brother for a dialysis session. Even if I would have had doubts whether to donate, that would have cleared them away. If anyone you know is contemplating being a donor I recommend they join someone for dialysis and they will see what they are saving the person from.

When I went for the third stage I failed the glucose test. I was retested and passed the second time. I was advised by a nurse to go for a brisk walk after drinking that horrible drink so that my body would ‘wake up’ and fight the sugar. The hospital tells you to sit because they are afraid of liability but I snuck out anyway and went for a half hour brisk walk. It worked. But then again, came the waiting. Waiting for all the results was so traumatic. Every telephone ring brought the hope that maybe the donor coordinator was calling. Finally they called and said. “Let’s set a date for the surgery”. I had to travel in from another city and had to coordinate with my employer but they were very supportive. They agreed to keep me on salary although I would miss 2 weeks of work.

Then we had to decide if my wife would travel with me for the surgery. On one hand the children needed her. On the other hand, it is always harder emotionally to be far away. I felt that since it is her donation as much as mine, she should also be there. She happily agreed to come. At this point we met resistance from an unlikely place. My mother was unhappy my wife was coming. I do not know why but I suspect it was because she wanted to be the one to care for me post-op. My wife’s presence would be in her to actual her maternal need to care for me. I felt that my wife and I have to be together as a unit and take this challenge as a unit. It would be a healthy reinforcement to our relationship. This is more important than my mother’s feelings.

Finally the day of the surgery was arriving. I had to arrive in the city a few days early for pre-op testing. The day before the surgery my parents and uncles and my brother Sam came down too. It was a secure feeling to have the family nearby. It was the first time I would be in a hospital bed. Then came the living will. They preface it that there is really no real chance you won’t wake up but it never hurts to be safe. I had to empower my wife with finances and my uncle who has much medical knowledge as one to make decisions for me while I was under. I also told my brother where I would want to be buried just in case. This part was creepy but I knew in my heart I would be ok. I did not tell my wife about the living will so she should not freak out.

The morning of the surgery I woke up early and scrubbed myself with the special antibacterial soap. The whole family arrived at 6am at the Hospital and waited together in the pre-op waiting room. I only later found out that others who I did not know had also come to hold a prayer vigil for the duration of the surgery. We were scheduled to be the second transplant but the first one was canceled so we went in early. When they called my name my heart skipped a beat. My wife and I stood up and almost danced toward the pre-op room. As I entered the room my wife stayed at the door and we wished each other well. That was a special moment. I changed into the hospital gown. The fellow surgeon came in and asked me again what surgery I was expecting and marked my stomach where the incision should be. Then the Anesthesiologist came and inserted the IV. He started to wheel me toward the operating room when the staff allowed my mother and wife in to wish me well one more time.

Then the Anesthesiologist told me I would start feeling sleepy. I was wide awake as I entered the operating room. The table was in a weird shape and the staff had their faces all covered. They asked me to move myself on to the operating table which I did. The last thing I remember was putting my head on the head rest of the operating table.

Next thing I knew I woke up. I wondered when the surgery will be but quickly realized I was after it. There was a young man sitting next to me watching. I said to him. “I feel like I need fresh air”. He giggled and said “What”? I repeated it and he said, “I never heard that before”. I guess I needed more oxygen.

I immediately drifted back to sleep. I was awakened by the Dr. saying, “Do you want to see you brother? His kidney is already producing urine”. That was music to my ears. I said yes. They wheeled my bed next to his and I stuck out my hand toward him and he touched it. I drifted off again. I then awoke in a hospital room. I asked if my wife can come and they called her. I then told her to call everyone. I know they were worried and would be happy to see I was ok. As soon as they walked in I was hit with a pain from which I broke in to tears. It was embarrassing to be an adult crying from pain but that was the real deal. The first 36 hours were hell! There were times I though I was going to die. I could not turn from side to side. My mother stayed with me that night and turned me when I needed and gave me ice to suck on. If not for her I do not know if I would have survived that night.

During that night she said,”Ok, now that’s its over why did you want to be the donor so much? Is it because you always fought as children? I remember thinking, “It’s over? I am in the worst pain ever and it is not over at all”! But I answered her with the story above about the Korean boy. There though may be another element too. I always was inspired with stories of great people. George Washington etc. I also wanted to do something that was great. Being an organ donor was something that I had always perceived to be great. Once I was personally involved for a brother I thought it was natural and not so great. This taught me that great things are in the mind of people.

The day after surgery my uncle pulled me out of bed and forced me to start walking. Next the catheter was removed and I was on my own. I asked that no visitors come so that I can recuperate and they respected the request.

I was discharged and stayed with relatives who cared for me with all their heart. After a week with them I was able to fly home and return to work. I went to the airport with my mother who also flew home at that time. Only then did we both realize how much trauma we had been through. As I walked toward the ramp to board the flight I saw my mother break out sobbing. She was happy and this was just the tension subsiding. I broke down after arriving home. I looked at my children and choked up. The trauma was so great there were times I was not sure if I would see them again. The gratitude to be home with them and all the pent up tension exploded and I sobbed for 10 minutes straight. I felt much better afterward.

The bandages slowly came off revealing a gaping hole. It seems that one incision did not close properly. I called the surgeon who guided me on how to bandage it with wet/dry gauze. About 6 weeks post surgery it stopped bleeding.

I was warned by a social worker that organ donors often have depression after the surgery. It is the body’s way of mourning its loss. I believe I did have some element of depression at different times for up to 6 months post surgery.

I am now 1.5years after surgery and still getting bills for the pre-op testing for the surgery. It seems that medical facilities get confused between donors and recipients. Hopefully it will work out soon.

The scars are fading and at times I forget that I am a donor. I feel great and am happy with my decision. To be honest, when I jumped in to it I did not know what I was getting in to but after the fact I am happy I did it.