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Offline Clark

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https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/first-person/article-i-donated-a-kidney-to-a-stranger-because-life-is-good-and-good-to/

I donated a kidney to a stranger because life is good and good to share
KATHY SYKORA
CONTRIBUTED TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL
PUBLISHED JULY 16, 2023

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.
I am what you call a late bloomer. I learned to ride a bike in my 20s; I learned to read Hebrew in my 40s; I learned to swim when I turned 60. Then, as I was pushing 70, I decided to become a living kidney donor.
The idea wasn’t completely far-fetched. I’d become a blood donor as soon as I was old enough, and I was on the stem cell donation list for decades. I always knew that if someone close to me needed a transplant, I’d volunteer at the drop of a hat. But this never came up.
Then one day my synagogue sent an appeal for someone in need of a kidney. I had never met this man and I only barely knew the family. But I couldn’t help but think: Why don’t I donate?
I spoke with my husband, who is the more measured of the two of us. We stepped back for a few weeks – to let the idea sink in, to search inside our hearts and to educate ourselves on the topic. Did you know, for example, that the left kidney sits higher in the body than the right one? Or that the transplant recipient typically retains their kidneys, and the new one is placed in their groin? Or that the donor’s remaining kidney grows by 50 per cent in the year after donation? I read everything – from heartfelt testimonials to medical articles way over my head, from dry official statistics to rambling Facebook posts, and lots more about the testing, the procedure, the recovery and of course the risks. And every time I read about living kidney donations, I thought – wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to do that?
Was it impulsive? Possibly. But most people regret what they have not done much more than they ever regret the things they have done.
It soon became clear that I would not be able to donate directly to the man that the original appeal was for. But, if I would consider doing this for a near stranger, then why not for a complete stranger?
There are different paths to kidney donation. Some people donate to someone close to them, or to someone they have a more tenuous connection with. Others find ways to seek out and meet a potential recipient. A somewhat different approach is to make an undirected donation to an unknown recipient. In Ontario, where I live, an undirected donation must always remain anonymous.
Deciding between finding a recipient and making an undirected donation was not easy. Eventually, I concluded that registering as an anonymous undirected donor was most consistent with my values. I had hoped to enable a chain of donations through the Canadian Blood Services Kidney Paired Donation program, but, to my surprise, they could not find me a match there. And that’s how I ended up signing up to donate to the person on the waiting list that needed me most.
The thorough testing that donors undergo took the better part of a year. Doctors tested my general health and my kidney health; they tested my cardiovascular health and my mental health; and occasionally they tested my patience! Every one of these tests yielded the same conclusion: I was ridiculously healthy and okay to donate.
Outside of testing, there was little to do to prepare. I increased my exercise routine to help with post-op recovery. I learned to sleep on my back, since sleeping on my side right after having my kidney removed did not seem like the best idea. I attempted to learn to meditate, anticipating both anxiety and a certain amount of discomfort. Newsflash! Meditation is not my strong suit.
The donor surgery is a three-and-a-half-hour laparoscopic affair, with one longer incision for taking the kidney out. The surgery is safe; but naturally, there are always risks. The likelihood of the most serious risks is so minuscule, it is similar to risks we take all the time. But there is definitely a recovery period, and it is hard to predict how any one donor will fare. All in all, donating an organ is not a decision to be taken lightly and the support of family and friends is paramount.
My surgery was followed by four days in the hospital. Then from the moment I came home, I was pampered by my husband, watched over by our Golden Retriever and called, texted and visited by friends and family. I watched in awe as the healing process unfolded. The body heals from the inside out. First, your innards rearrange themselves to fill the kidney-sized hole that was left behind, and your bowels slowly recover from being moved around to accommodate the surgery. Then the swelling on your abdomen starts to subside and your incisions continue to heal. Every day I was able to do something that was out of my reach the day before: Put on my own socks, then clear my own dinner plate, then go for a longer walk. Three weeks after surgery, I was completely off any pain medication. I still napped a lot, but otherwise did things closer and closer to normal.
The hardest question people ask me is: “Why?” In fact, this was one of the first items on the 12-page form I needed to fill out prior to entering the program. At that time, I thought, “Oh it’s just a form, let me just put in whatever so I can get to the meaty questions, like my health history and blood type.” So, I put down “To help improve someone’s life.” But now, more than a year and much soul-searching later, I don’t have a better answer. Perhaps I’d add that life is good and good to share.
I wish I was a brilliant physician and able to discover cures for many diseases, eliminating the need for transplants. Or a genius biomedical engineer, able to find a process to 3-D print new organs for anyone who needs one. Or an inspiring fundraiser to enable accelerated research in those areas. The truth is, I am not any of those. And I will surely never run into a burning building to save the life of a child. But this – submitting to an uncomfortable but safe procedure to share a bit of my good health and one superfluous little organ with someone who needs it way more than I do – this was something I could do.
Kathy Sykora lives in Toronto.
Unrelated directed kidney donor in 2003, recipient and I both well.
625 time blood and platelet donor since 1976 and still giving!
Elected to the OPTN/UNOS Boards of Directors & Executive, Kidney Transplantation, and Ad Hoc Public Solicitation of Organ Donors Committees, 2005-2011
Proud grandpa!

 

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