Reflections of a Living Kidney Donor

On January 17, 2006 I donated my kidney to Geri Marie Grell.  On September 17, 2010 my son, Nate, donated his kidney to Geri’s brother, Gary. While Nate was going through the testing process, I wrote the following reflection.  Nate and Gary are both doing great after their surgeries!

Reflections of a Donor

At times it seems so long ago. At times it seems like just yesterday.  Four and one-half years after donation, I am perfectly healthy and very happy that I made the decision to donate.  Now that my twenty-year-old son is in the testing process to donate to my recipient’s brother, I have had the opportunity to reflect more on my donation and on donation in general.  My son and I are hearing the same questions I heard five years ago.  “Why would you put yourself through the pain and trouble of testing and surgery?”  “Aren’t you afraid you will die?”  “What about the health affects years later?”  “Don’t you worry that you will suffer consequences in the future because you will only have one kidney?”  When the questions are asked, I am caught off guard and give feeble answers.  Here I will attempt to explain more clearly my thoughts.  The thoughts will be in no particular order of importance.  Some will answer the questions above.  Some will be reflections on life and faith, which I feel explain the choices we made.

Death rate extrapolations for USA for Kidney disease: 35,525 per year, 2,960 per month, 683 per week, 97 per day, 4 per hour.

Number of people awaiting transplants (March 16, 2010):  Kidney :  83,950

Four people die from kidney disease every hour!  I find those statistics alarming.  People take on all kinds of “causes”. . . save the planet, save the whales, save energy, etc.  To me, these causes are rather trivial compared to saving – or greatly improving the life of another person.  I realize that not all of the deaths included in the above statistics could be prevented by live donation.  But think how much that number could be reduced if more people become aware of the valuable gift they have and choose to give.

When I heard that my recipient needed a kidney from a live donor within six months, I knew I was meant to give her one of mine.  I knew God had brought us to this place.  I knew it so deeply that I often felt frustrated with the delays and testing process.  I would think to myself, “I know I am supposed to donate this kidney, so let’s just schedule surgery and stop this nonsense!

I was never afraid of the pain, of dying during surgery, or of future complications of living with one kidney.  This is not because of bravery, but because of my faith.  I don’t see suffering and death as something bad.  Society portrays suffering as something terrible – something that should be avoided at all costs.  I see suffering as an opportunity to come closer to the Lord and share in His great suffering for our sins.  He will help us whenever we need Him.  We can offer our pain and suffering (physical or emotional) to Him, and He will bring good from it.

If one believes in God and in Heaven, then how can one fear death?  To spend eternity in Heaven is the reason for our existence.  Our lives on earth are given to us as a time to perfect our love of Christ and prepare us for what is to come.  I look forward to that time.  Not that I am looking for ways to die, but I have a joyful, peaceful sense of death, and I do not dread that day.  Maybe this is because I was at my grandmother’s side when she died, and it was a beautiful experience that I will never forget.  After a day of no movement whatsoever, she opened her eyes and slowly lifted her arms toward Heaven.  You could see that she was being welcomed into the arms of a loving Father.  How wonderful that will be!

The Bible says, “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  (John 15:13) I don’t think this always has to mean the literal sacrifice of our life, but it is meant to guide our thinking – to teach us to put others first.  This belief has been prominent in my family as long as I can remember.  While I was growing up, my parents took in numerous foster children.  I watched as they nurtured them; infants, young children, and teens.  They provided the love and care that was so desperately needed and never asked for anything in return.  When I was a teen, my best friend came to live with us when her family struggled through a divorce and the effects of alcoholism.  As an adult, my parents took in friends who had a house fire, friends who ran into delays when building a new home, and my own family as we transitioned between homes many times.  Helping others is a way of life in our home.  When I asked my youngest son, then fourteen, what he thought about my donating a kidney, he said, “If it will save someone’s life, why not?”  When my other son was meeting with the psychologist during the donation process, she asked him, “What if you die during surgery?”  His response was, “Then I guess I die doing what I enjoy – helping people.”

Donating a kidney has been a blessing to me and my family.  My recipient and her family are wonderful people.  I love them dearly and am so thankful that they are in my life.  I look forward to my son’s upcoming donation experience.  I know there are people who think I shouldn’t let him do this, but why would I stop my child from doing something so wonderful?  It’s what he wants to do.  I know he is ready, and I know he will be blessed through the experience.  Yes, it will be painful, but pain is temporary and makes us stronger in the long run.

Lorri Shalley