****It's been 5 years today since I donated my kidney to my mother in 2009. I wrote this post originally on Medium last summer but it feels important to share it here today. I'm also reposting it in the hopes that it will help someone, somewhere make a tough decision, what ever that decision turns out to be. I also made the decision to move back to Boston days after I wrote this. ;) xo.meighan
Obviously, I’m excited to write on Medium. I got my invite earlier today, and my first thought was: what will I write? What should I write? So far everything I have read on Medium, I’ve passed on to others, and shared across my social accounts. It’s good stuff. The bar has been set. And it’s been set high.
It only seems appropriate, and obvious to share something really special as my first post (and exactly what Medium seems to want). Something that I can’t really write elsewhere, and something that might help others.
So why not go big? And share something that really truly does have meaning, so much that I rarely ever tell anyone about it because it’s that deep. That important.
My first post here on Medium seems like a good place to crack that wide open.
Growing up, I was never super close to my mom. She was a single parent trying to make ends meet. Working hard to keep us off the welfare that kept us a float after my dad kicked rocks when we were barely, no longer babies.
Being the oldest of three, I was trying to make my own way growing up in Boston. Spending misguided summer nights in Copley Square, and looking for meaning at all ages hardcore shows at T.T. the Bears in Central Square on the weekends.
I was always looking for any way out of the town I grew up in.
I tried three times to get out of Boston when I had the chance(s). Once for college in ‘91, second for a 3 month trip to London that spanned a year and a bit in ‘95/’96, and finally (pheww!) to San Francisco in 2001. I finally got out.
But not so fast. In 2007, home came calling. I was trying to make a career change out of retail, and move into the art world (I had originally been relocated to SF by retailer Kate Spade). It was proving difficult. I was broke, and I couldn’t find a job where I wasn’t considered ‘overqualified.’ But truth be told, SF had burned me out, hard — I just wanted to sleep.
Previously that spring, I had learned from my mom that she wasn’t doing well. Her kidneys were failing her. She had gotten nephritus as a child, and it had ravaged her kidneys. Her doctors told her she was on the fast track to the very, slow moving kidney donation list. My sister, brother, and I all knew this moment would come, eventually. We just didn’t expect it so soon.
Being in SF had seriously lost its charm. Things at home seemed so much more…I don’t know, meaningful? So I did the right thing. I packed my things up, and moved back to the house I grew up in Jamaica Plain.
Little did I know due to that move, two major things would change my life in ways I could never imagine. One: I would breathe every free minute I had into a blog that would later change my career so abruptly it would take me almost 3 years to get my head back on straight. And two: I would become a living donor for my mom’s kidney transplant surgery.
To date, there are over 90,000 people waiting for a kidney donation in the US. The waiting list has doubled in size in the past 10 years. 4,500 people die every year waiting for a kidney transplant.¹ Many of the people that do die were once healthy individuals when first placed on the waiting list.²
When my mom asked me to get tested to be a living donor, I just did it. I didn’t think about what it meant, or what would happen. I just did it. I didn’t really think about the end result of that test.
By the end of 2008, my mom was on hemodialysis and it was taking a toll. She looked sick. She was tired. It was clear she was fading. A patient had what we think was a heart attack while my mom was having dialysis one day, and that seemed like the last straw for all of us. The doctors started to prepare to move forward for living donation.
One thing rarely heard; is that dialysis is absolutely no way to live. It’s barely maintenance. Quality of life for dialysis patients is almost nonexistent. You are at the dialysis center 3 or 4 times a week (sometimes 5, depending on how sick you are) for 4 to 6 hour intervals. Your body takes a beating. Your blood pressure drops. You’re cold. You’re tired. And you’re scared. And what’s worse, dialysis machines do about 10% of what a real kidney can do. Not to mention it can cause a whole host of serious illneses such as anemia, bone disease, heart disease, and death. Let me reiterate that last one for you: DEATH. The average life expectancy of a patient on dialysis is 5 years.³ Those are the awful truths.
In February of 2009, I donated my left kidney to my mother.
Simply put, my mom would have died if she didn’t get a kidney. Yes, there were other donor matches in my family, but I had the least to lose. I was healthy, somewhat young (I was 36), and had no kids. It just felt like the right thing to do. It was a no brainer.
That experience was like nothing I can explain. Even as I write this, I know I’l l never be able to fully describe how it felt. It was spirtual in a sense (although that could have been the oxycotin I was on after the surgery). But it also felt so incredibly private, and honestly bizarre. Leading up to the surgery, I learned to stop telling people about the upcoming surgery. People tend to bug the hell out when you tell them you’re donating a kidney. Then you add the parent factor in, and forget it — it can get really intense. It’s clearly not the best cocktail story.
I’ve never been able to find the best way to put it into words. I have never written about it (til now), or talked about it in depth. One thing’s for sure though, it made my life and the world around me so tangible, and so very crystal clear.
Over the past five years, living donations have decreased, and the effectiveness of increasing living donations has not been improved, regardless of the numerous programs in place to encourage it. This astounds me considering it’s 2013.
I wish I could say, go donate a kidney. Go save a life. But I would be doing most people a disservice. It’s a painful, painful recovery process (at least it was for me). It can put you out of work for 6 weeks. And you’re losing a vital organ (just in case that fact wasn’t abundantly clear). So that’s kind of nuts. But in some cases, like mine — it’s the right thing to do. There is no other option.
It’s obviously something that should not be taken lightly. You’ll be put through rigorous psychiatric tests, so you’ll get weeded out if you seriously can’t commit. (I was amazed at how grueling this aspect of the whole situation was. I literally had to ask the psych if he was trying to change my mind.) However, for me? It was the right choice. And I would make the same one again. Yes, I have some gnarly scars, and I still have weird phantom pain. But you know what? I’m lucky I was unable to find a job in 2007. I am so grateful I was pushed back towards the city I had so desperately been trying to escape my entire youth. It gave me such an incredible opportunity to help my mom. To truly be there for her. And it gave us a bond we didn’t have before, it made us closer.
So if you asked me if you should consider donating to a loved one who needs it — I would encourage you to think long and hard, and look deep into your heart. The answer might come a lot quicker than you expected. It did for me.
I live back in the Bay Area again — I moved back in 2010 — and now I come home to Boston at least three times a year. I just so happen to be visiting Boston as I write this. In fact, I wrote this entire post in the bedroom I spent much of my youth in (which is now my 15 year old niece’s room.) It’s funny how life works, isn’t it? It sure is good to be home.
As I mentioned above, I keep this experience mainly to myself but I’m sharing it here, in the hopes that maybe it can help someone make the tough decision to be a living donor, and save a life. It’s worth it. If you have questions about being a living donor, or have a family member who is on the transplant list, I’d be happy to answer any questions to the best of my ability. You can find me on Twitter.