My name and who I am are not important, but what I want to share with you is. Throughout my life, God has blessed me in countless ways. While some people may think that fame, fortune and wealth are among the richest blessings you could have, I believe that family, friends, and good health are the basic blessings that lead to genuine happiness and contentment.
The unconditional love I have for my family and friends leads to feelings of sadness and helplessness when they are stricken with sudden or long-term illnesses. So many times I have found myself asking “What can I do to help” or “Just let me know if there’s anything I can do” or “I wish there was something I could do”. I have participated in numerous walks, races and relays, and I have contributed monetarily to various charities, but the feeling of real satisfaction did not present itself until I found another way to help.
The first experience I had that gave me a real feeling of helping was when I volunteered to be a donor for a healthy tissue bank in the search for a cure for breast cancer which had touched my life through family and friends. It was simply a matter of traveling to Indianapolis with two busloads of determined women so that biopsies could be taken for studies and research. This was a powerful experience of being able to actually give a little part of myself in the hopes of helping some very special ladies in my life and in memory of some who did not survive the battle with cancer.
Some years passed before I was recently given another opportunity to give a little of myself to help someone I love and care about. I would like to briefly introduce you to the three important people in this life-changing experience.
First of all there is my nephew, Lucas. He was only three years old when he received his first kidney transplant from his mother. About fourteen years later, at the end of Lucas’ junior year in high school, his body rejected the kidney, he went into renal failure, and he required kidney dialysis in order to stay alive. He was not a candidate for peritoneal dialysis that could be done at home, but had to go to a local Davita clinic for hemodialysis three days a week for at least four hours a treatment. When Lucas first started hemodialysis, it occurred to me that I could help by picking him up after dialysis as often as possible to take him home. He spent the summer after his junior year and his entire senior year in high school on dialysis and was still able to attend his high school class graduation ceremony and accept his diploma. During this more than one-year saga of dialysis, I saw Lucas’ body gradually deteriorating from the effects of dialysis which seemed to be draining the life from him. Early in his treatment, I asked if I could be tested to see if my kidney would be a match for Lucas. I was given the name and telephone number for a live donor transplant coordinator at IU Medical Center in Indianapolis. She asked me the usual preliminary questions and told me immediately that I would not be a compatible donor for Lucas because of my age (57). However, she asked me if I would be willing to donate a kidney to another recipient as long as Lucas would receive a kidney – in other words, was I willing to “swap” kidneys. In my mind, there was no doubt that the answer was “yes”. This began a long period of testing for both of us in the hopes that there would be another set of kidney donor and recipient out there who we would cross-match.
The other two people in this story are Leona and Susan, who did not know each other and neither of whom Lucas or I had ever met. Leona had been on dialysis for at least eighteen months and was hard to match because of several blood transfusions she was given during her medical treatments. She was no longer able to work because of her dialysis treatments and declining health. Susan, a single mother of a three-year-old little girl, had lost her father as a result of failing health, including long-term kidney dialysis. Her heart was set on memorializing her father by helping someone in need of a healthy kidney. The coordinators at IU were hopeful that Leona and Susan would be a match for transplant; however, the tests proved otherwise. Susan was asked the same question I was – would she be willing to donate her kidney to someone else as long as Leona received a kidney. Her answer was the same as mine – yes!
Once all the testing was completed, we each got the telephone call we had been waiting for – the four of us did cross-match and we were scheduled for surgery on Friday, August 31, 2012. The four of us agreed that we would like to meet each other so the hospital made arrangements for us to be introduced to each other on Wednesday, August 29, 2012.
It is not easy for me to describe my feelings that first instant I met Leona and Susan. It was such a humbling experience for me and at the same time I felt such a sense of euphoria like I had never felt before! Leona and I hugged each other and cried together for more than a few moments. It was like a dream come true for all of us. People had asked me during the wait if I was nervous or afraid and I told them that the only feeling I could explain was that I was ready! At first I wanted to do this to help Lucas, but now I felt like I needed to do this as much for me as for Lucas and Leona. My feelings of anxiety came when I was afraid that no matches would be found. When I looked into their eyes, I realized that this was God’s way of letting me be a part of saving not only one life but two. How awesome is that? And how many times is anyone given that chance during their lifetime?
Before surgery, Leona introduced me to her family and friends. As my nurse was preparing to walk me to the operating room, one of Leona’s friends from church asked if he could pray with us. My nurse did not even hesitate when I looked at her. We all held hands and lifted our hearts and lives up to God. Never for a moment did I doubt that He would guide the surgeons’ hands and give me and Leona the chance to become lifelong friends.
This past Thanksgiving weekend, the four of us along with our significant others met to give thanks for so much, not the least of which was a second chance at life for Lucas and Leona, and the realization for Susan and me that we actually received much more than we gave!
My only regret is that I cannot give of this magnitude again. My sister helped me to realize that I may not be able to give away any more of my body parts, but I can still give a part of myself to help others in smaller ways – and that is what I intend to do!!
Post Note: When she first wrote this, Peggy McCormick – a paralegal at Bamberger – intended for this article to be anonymous. Good news tends to travel far and fast, however. Peggy and her nephew, Lucas, were just spotlighted in an article in People Magazine for their part in a kidney pairing swap. The article can be found here.