By Mark Neville
People can donate one of their kidneys? While they’re alive? Really?
Six months ago, I didn’t even know this option existed.
It all started with a Facebook post about our kids’ former babysitter, Tasha. The post said Tasha was in need of a kidney from a living donor. More specifically, she was hoping she might find a match among her family, friends and their friends. All it took to indicate willingness to be tested was to click on a link.
One of the more rewarding moments of my life was 15 years earlier when I donated bone marrow to a baby boy who lived in Huntington Beach, just up the road from my home in San Diego. The odds of the bone marrow match were several million to one. Thinking that the odds to match Tasha would be similar, I clicked on the link.
Weeks later, I was slightly surprised when I received an email and a subsequent telephone call from the Transplant Center at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center asking if I was still interested in being tested. I agreed and was instructed to have blood and urine work done to see if I could be a potential donor. I was then VERY surprised a couple weeks after that initial testing when I was told by the Transplant Center that I was likely a very good match for Tasha. Still, I thought this was a long shot. I was asked to travel to Houston for additional testing to see if I was indeed a good match and healthy enough to undergo a kidney transplant procedure.
Hoping for a Match
At this point, I sincerely hoped this would work out. Tasha is an amazing human and she deserved this. My three kids, my wife and I thought the world of her as a babysitter and person. We knew her as kind, compassionate, caring and fun.
In early January, I flew to Houston for four days of testing at Memorial Hermann-TMC. I was poked and prodded with endless blood tests, urine tests, heart exams, CT scans, a psychological exam and several meetings with members of my transplant team. During this trip, I learned about the transplant process: the risks, rewards and a topic for which I previously knew nothing about – kidney function! I also learned that there are nearly 100,000 people on the waiting list in need of a kidney transplant. Most transplanted kidneys come from deceased donors, although about 6,000 per year come from living donors, most often family members. The fact that so many die on this waiting list each year really opened my eyes and had a significant impact on me.
While it was confirmed on this trip that I was a great match for Tasha, an abnormality in my echocardiogram would require further evaluation and a second opinion by a cardiologist back home in San Diego. After getting the “all clear,” it hit me that Tasha was going to get a new kidney!
The day I received this good news from the cardiologist, the Transplant Center at Memorial Hermann-TMC reached out to Tasha to let her know that she had a donor match, although they did not tell her the donor’s identity.
Few knew I was being tested during these several months, including Tasha. It was only now, when it was official, that I called Tasha and let her know that I was going be the donor. It was a conversation I will never forget.
Getting Ready for Surgery
Leading up to the surgery, many asked me why I was going through with this. It never entered my mind that I wouldn’t do this. I think (and would hope) that given the information I was provided, the opportunity that was presented, and the knowledge that a kidney transplant was even possible, most would do exactly as I did. I get embarrassed when people praise me for having moved forward with the transplant. The way I see it, we only get one shot in this life. This was an experience for which I will never forget, and one for which will always be among the proudest in my life. Who wouldn’t want that?
I checked in at Memorial Hermann-TMC at noon the day before the surgery. It really wasn’t until then that I became a little anxious. The only other time in my life I had a surgery was when I donated bone marrow. The nurses, surgeons, physician’s assistant, transplant coordinators and others put me at ease. The highlight of that day, however, was sitting with Tasha and having a nice “pre-game” visit. When the morning of the surgery arrived, with my wife at my side, I was ready to roll!
I don’t recall much from the moment I arrived in the holding room to prepare for the surgery until I was back in my hospital room. But a few things I DO remember quite well: “The Golden Girls” was being shown on the little television and I asked the nurse if they play music in the operating room. She said that indeed they did and asked if I would like a song to be played as I went in the room. Without much thought, I chose James Taylor’s “Carolina on My Mind.” And as promised, that song was played as I went through the doors to surgery. I also recall singing, quite loudly, “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys!
The next thing I knew, and seemingly in the blink of an eye, I was back in my room. The only thing I remember about the rest of that day was being told that both Tasha’s and my surgeries went well and as planned. It felt good to hear that and that night, believe it or not, I had a really good night of sleep and felt very comfortable physically and emotionally.
“One of the Best Days of My Life”
I will forever look back on my stay at Memorial Hermann-TMC favorably and, strangely, among the best days of my life. Each member of the hospital staff was professional, friendly, helpful and even fun. Words cannot describe how appreciative I am to them. Even the hospital’s head transplant surgeon, Dr. Bynon, went above and beyond and scoured the floor to find me a cup of coffee! I will also never forget how cool it was when Tasha walked over and showed up at the door of my hospital room. Again, who wouldn’t want to experience this?!
You know how after a nice visit with family or close friends you dread the goodbyes? I had a similar feeling when I was discharged from the hospital. Quite frankly, living in San Diego, I had never heard of Memorial Hermann. Now, I will sing its praises to anyone who will listen.
Since the transplant donation, I’ve been healing well (only a few more weeks until I can get back in the water and surf again!), Tasha’s new kidney is functioning beautifully and I’m in awe of this new world to which I’ve been exposed. Tasha has thanked my family and me over and over again, but I really should be the one giving thanks to her. She provided me with this beautiful and rewarding opportunity. I’m so proud to have played at least a small role in this process.
My thoughts now are two-fold: First, I hope Tasha’s recovery is a quick one and that soon she’ll be able to embrace what will be a wonderful life. As I mentioned earlier, she deserves it. Secondly, I hope that there will be an increased awareness for the need of living donor kidneys that will lead to fewer people losing their lives while on the waiting list.
To prospective donors, wouldn’t you want to have the same experience I did?
It certainly is a beautiful life.
To learn more about organ donation, visit www.organdonor.gov