Donor! Six things I learned from organ donation

It was four years ago today, I recall standing near the kitchen window at barely six o’clock in the morning as the car pulled up my driveway. I grabbed my bags and took a final look around before heading out the door knowing it would be a while before I returned home. I could feel the cool morning air and the smell of freshly cut grass as I locked the door behind me.

I had slept little the night before,  I had walked the halls feeling uneasy about the unknown. Me - Rochester, NY

As I stepped towards the car, I was greeted by Barb’s calm face, “can I help you with your bags Wen”? I often say that in life there are no accidents.  My friend Barb and I had only just reconnected a few years earlier. She said “she is excited about the road trip”, she has told me this more than once. When we were merely 18 and 19 years old, we had taken a road trip across the country- it was quite an adventure! Our road trips for the past two years consisted of a 100 mile bike ride to honor and raise awareness for missing children.

For the past six months, I had been in and out of the hospital taking one test after another. The process of ensuring you are a fit includes dozens of medical tests. I was extremely relieved when a panel of doctors had enough evidence to determine I was a fit.

As we traveled the five hours to Pittsburg from Rochester, NY, we laughed and reminisced about old times. At one point Barb looked over at me and said “this is really fun” for a moment I was a bit confused, since I had expected this trip to be long and a bit depressing. But she was right, we were having a blast telling old stories and singing extremely loud to songs we recognized on the radio.

As we pulled into Pittsburgh our moods changed, Barb navigated her car easily around the city and we soon found ourselves in front of UPMC Hospital. I got out of the car and gave her a big hug as I grabbed my bag and headed towards the hospital entrance. I remember feeling present to everything around me as though time stood still. The flowers that lined the walkway were vibrant with a clean scent that filled the air and gave me a sense of tranquility.

My body felt strong after six months of training and eating whole foods. As I thought back to the past two years of chaos that littered my life along with the recent anxiousness around the surgery I found myself relatively at ease, particularly since within twelve hours I would become a living organ donor.

My expectations were typical for me, just get the job done and move on to what is next. I had anticipated donating my kidney, spend six weeks healing and eventually resume my life where I had left off.

Although I was not a match for my brother and therefore my kidney was incompatible we became part of a four-way kidney exchange. I didn’t know who would receive my kidney, only that my kidney would be transferred to NY Presbyterian hospital within hours from when they removed it from my body!

Tim’s life had fallen into despair with three trips a week to dialysis which kept him alive with little hope and energy.  I was excited at the prospect of a new kidney working in his body, I looked forward to seeing his blue eyes brighten and hearing life in his monotone voice.  I visualized his depressed manner fading and replaced by a more vibrant healthier self.

After I checked into the hospital, my family stopped in later than evening after traveling from different parts of the country. My Mom traveled the furthest from California. That night in the hospital, I barely slept at all; I sat up most of the night just letting go of old emotions. By morning I felt clear and calm.

The nurse came to my room at five am to prep me for surgery; I remained easy in my body and calm in my mind. When I woke from the surgery later that morning I was in a tremendous amount of pain.  The nurse assured me it would become exponentially better every day and it did!

Two days later, I left the hospital to resume my healing at the Family House which was located just a few blocks away from the hospital. I planned to stay there for the next two weeks until Tim’s surgery.

It’s here where the seeds of change began to take shape and transform my life.

  1. While staying at the family house in Pittsburgh I grew very close to the other families who were waiting for a transplant or recovering from a transplant. Many of the families waiting for an organ included children. I realized during this time how small my world had become—as I witnessed firsthand the pain and suffering so many families endured. I also saw how precious life is. My thoughts felt more open, I had fewer stories in my head to back up old beliefs. I felt present and connected to everyone at the family house where we would share stories over coffee and offer a shoulder to cry on.   Since leaving the family house I have continued to look at the faces of humanity knowing that we all have a story to tell.
  2. After my brother received his kidney, I felt a clear sense of worthiness. I know that’s a strange thing to say, but in truth I never felt like I was enough. My focus was often on what I did wrong and where I was lacking. For the first time I felt acceptance.
  3. I was raised to believe our true connections during our lifetime were through our own bloodline– which meant family. I learned through this experience that we are all woven together and I feel part of something much bigger than myself.
  4. My Mom stayed with me at the family house. While she had two of her six children going through surgeries I saw a patient and loving Mom who found joy and connection within this community. She gave back to families every single day in any way she could. I learned that we often look for fault in those we love. We strive to create our own destiny, to do better, to know more. Eventually when wisdom sets in, it’s simply about the relationships we share. For me, I had always been so independent, never needing anything from anyone. The time with my Mom taught me about myself and being in a place where I accepted compassion, patience, and love.
  5. My earliest memory was at the age of three when I woke up from a nightmare and felt like I was being stalked. I’ve had these nightmares for the past 40 years. Most of my adult life, I would keep a large dog around to sound the alarm if needed and always took my shower before my husband and kids left the house to ensure I was not alone. These nightmares have influenced my life. Shortly after my donor surgery, I noticed these nightmares were dissipating to the point where I don’t experience them at all. I read once that kidneys hold our memories.
  6. No attachment.  Therefore going with the flow, no worries if it turns out this way or that way, I am ok with it. It doesn’t mean I don’t work hard or I don’t ask for what I want. It simply means I am not attached to a specific outcome. This has created a tremendous amount of simplicity in my everyday life.

Today, as I look back at my life, what I am most proud of are my children and being a living organ donor.

Wcb

 

The gift, reconnecting with my Dad.

Our behaviors and experiences are often fueled by what happened in the past.  He passed away a three years ago today and before he left this world, he gave me a wonderful gift.  For me, my Dad was intimidating and not approachable. I had often felt pressured by his beliefs and held back from showing him who I was.

My Dad renovating our house in Kendall, NY

My Dad renovating our house in Kendall, NY

The last week of his life all of that changed because of a story he told me and I am forever grateful. He started with “I need to talk to  you about  your upbringing“.  My dad shared a moment in his life as a young boy that would define his beliefs and how he would live his life. To me, he was a maverick, laser focused and fearless.

It happened during World War II as a very young boy in London England, while both he and his brother Derek were leaving the movie theater. They were caught in an air raid with no place to hide. My father was merely 5 years old when the two boys ran home and crouched behind their house in the dark with bombs dropping all around them. He heard the screams, saw the destruction and wondered if he would survive this night. He had already survived dysentery and now he was smack in the middle of the bombings. This defining moment would shape his thoughts and how he would raise his future children. He never wanted us to feel afraid and he wanted us to be prepared in life.

It was October of 2012 when my Dad and I began to connect again, just three months before he found out he had lung cancer. He expressed how proud and grateful he was that I donated a kidney on behalf of my brother.

One of my favorite things about these conversations over the next ten months, my dad would ask “Wendy, how are you today and how is life going”?   I miss that, it came from a place that was genuine, he really wanted to know. I typically gave him my standard answer, “I am good” but truthfully I really loved the way he asked that question.

My dad taught me about perseverance and living, he was never afraid to start over and follow his calling.  In fact he had just moved to San Diego at the age of 69 after leaving everything behind. In just five short years my Dad found success in creating a life with close friends, dancing, building a contracting business and becoming actively involved in a local church. He was very proud to be President of the Smooth Dancers Club in San Diego and the contributions he made.

I have felt my Father’s presence at different times over the past year. One example; during a long evening drive on icy roads driving from NY to Rochester, I felt exhausted and unprepared for the focus that lie ahead. While I was driving through the mountains that evening, I could feel my Dad’s presence which relaxed me and gave me strength as I drove on.

How often do we block out good memories and focus on what went wrong?  I remember my father when I was a very young girl and the connection we had. That must have been what I felt during those last few month… that same connection.

Read More: Growing up in London during the war:  My Dad, a life of survival, acceptance and trust.

With Gratitude.

Wendy

The Light. What I learned from my near death experience

It’s only recently that I fully came to understand how my near death experience so many years ago changed the course of my life.

It was the middle of January and a typical winter day in Rochester, New York when the days are short and bitterly cold. Snow blanketed the ground as I made my daily trip to the hospital to spend time with my son who was two weeks old and cradled in the intensive care unit.  I felt as though my life was frozen in time, nothing else mattered.

My life went from total joy in anticipation of our long awaited arrival to a place of confusion and fear.  The nurses who cared for my son Kyle repeatedly remarked on how thin I was for just having a baby. I was totally unaware of my body. I hadn’t been feeling well for a few days, but I didn’t give it much attention. My only focus was on Kyle.  On this day I gowned up, scrubbed my hands and went through the glass doors to the intensive care unit where a nurse carefully handed me my son who slept in an incubator. I sat in a rocking chair and found being here with Kyle was the only place I felt at peace.

Thirty minutes into holding my son, I felt a drastic change in my body; I knew something was seriously wrong as I hand our son to my husband.

My son Kyle and I

My son Kyle and I

 

By the time I was rushed into the emergency room, I was in and out of consciousness and I didn’t understand what was happening to me.  The room was small and cramped with doctors and nurses rushing in and out of the room. My Doctor yelled orders to the staff and it felt chaotic.  With a nurse on either side of me, I could see the frustration in their face as they struggle to attach an IV to different parts of my arms because my veins had collapsed. I had lost too much blood.  My doctor moved swiftly to stop the bleeding because he knew my heart would not be able to maintain the blood pressure. I was failing fast.

That’s when I felt myself gently float above my body. I felt warmth, peace and love surrounding me with a beautiful soft white light that led toward a tunnel.  As I looked down at my body lying on the hospital bed, I was aware that I was dying but it didn’t feel like a tragedy even though I was just 24 years old.

I pondered in this peaceful place between two worlds and I had no sense of how much time had elapsed. It’s difficult to put into words how I felt, but I will try.  In this place I felt an immense amount of love, acceptance and warmth.  I could see clearly that the many negative thoughts that had previously occupied my mind were in no way justified.  Why had I believed I was such a terrible person, why had I strived for so much perfection, why had I tried so hard to be someone other than myself?

The Flip Flop

I believe it was during that mysterious time between two worlds that I made the choice to begin again. When I awoke my body felt cold. I was confused and in pain. I was missing the warmth and love I had felt in what seemed just moments ago.  I was thinking about my son Kyle, and how we were planning to bring him home the following week. I felt the urgent need to see him right away.

It was 24 hours before they removed the tubes from my body, and a total of 48 hours later when Kyle passed away in my arms. He was barely three weeks old.

Losing my son is all that occupied my mind for a long time. I felt unsafe in the world and desperately wanted and needed something, I couldn’t comprehend that I had the most amazing experience of my life and now I felt empty. It would be months before I felt any of the love and joy that had surrounded me when he first came in this world.

At the same time, I was acutely aware that I no longer wanted the same things out of life. I had worked diligently towards work advancement, material things and always looking my best.  None of these things mattered. I felt lost.

And now…

When I look back at the moment where I left my body and felt the warmth and love through every fiber of my being, I realize that the soft powerful white light was me – my soul. Each and every one of us has this light inside of us.

The only gap between us and our souls are our thoughts.

 

This article was written on the 32 anniversary of my NDE.

Wendy Brabon

 

Gratitude! Three Year Anniversary ~Kidney Donor

As I contemplate my donation just three years ago today– it was a time of loss, a time of growth and a time of giving. It was also a compilation of how I had lived my life up until that point. So often, when we are going through difficult times it’s hard to imagine anything beyond the hurt and pain.

I intuitively knew  I needed to get the focus off myself.  Donating my kidney certainly helped me accomplish that!

A new day

A new day

I believe so much of this is around timing, while every aspect of my life had been interrupted– I found by giving at this magnitude, I was able to open up and learn a new way of being!

Today, I have a greater appreciation for life and for others. I no longer feel that I am in this world trudging along and worrying about what is next. Instead I feel an intense amount of gratitude for nature and people along with a deep sense of knowing that everything is as it should be.

I feel connected.

On August 16, 2012 I donated my kidney on behalf of my brother Tim at UPMC in Pittsburgh. Although I was not a match, we were part of this amazing circle where  eight of us exchanged kidneys. Therefore my kidney went to NYC, Tim’s kidney came from Philadelphia, etc. I loved being part of this bigger circle and often wonder how everyone in doing today.

There are so many families who have loved one’s that are in need of support– whether it’s organ donation, loss of health, or situations that impact our lives. I believe we are here to support one another and to make our lives bigger than our own.

I am forever grateful for all the support and encouragement I received from family and friends.

Wendy

Five ways to create a practice of graditude

untitledI recently noticed I was struggling. I began striving for things such as; loosing a few extra pounds, wishing I had this or that. To me this is dangerous, the message is clear that I am moving away from my core to external wants. Mind you, it’s ok to want and desire more for yourself. However, when your experiences are based on external ideas of you not being enough, something is missing. For me, it’s a reminder that I have stepped away from my core. I know for sure that we have the ability to be happy in this world with gratitude.

Two years ago I learned this lesson well.

Everything in my life fell apart, finances, relationship, and business and I was facing major surgery to donate my kidney on behalf of my brother. At the time, I simplified it, thinking I could donate my organ and heal over the next few weeks and then get back to picking up the pieces of my life. However, things turned out very differently…..

I started blogging prior to the surgery and opened myself up. In the past I lived my life only showing the pieces of myself that I chose to share. Although, I was warm and friendly most people knew little about me. All of that changed with my blogs. I wrote about my deepest fears, thoughts and insecurities and my world opened. People could relate to this person and through these experiences I learned how connected we all are.

After my surgery life slowed down (in part because of the pain), I became very present and realized the impact my surgery had on my brother and the chain I was part of. The gratitude I felt was staggering. I felt like I had been reborn and woke up in color. Nothing seemed too hard, everything seemed as it should. It was the first time in my life that my soul was at peace with itself. It took me a year to heal completely from the surgery, it was time well spent loving both myself and everything around me.

I realized even though I practiced gratitude throughout my life, this was deeper. I felt gratitude in every cell of my body.

Here are five ways to create a practice of gratitude

1). Before you go to bed; take a moment and consider what you are grateful for? Then feel it in your body, this is very important. Recall the day your child was born, or the day you learned that “fill in the blank”. Reconnect with the emotion from that moment, feel that sense of excitement and appreciation in your body.

2). Keep a daily gratitude journal. I keep a calendar and write down every evening what I am grateful for; at times it’s my breath, my kids, the sky. Other times it’s something amazing that happened in my day.

3). Wake up each morning with your first thought of gratitude. Instead of thinking about everything you need to do, take a moment relax and feel what you are grateful for. You cannot be in an ego state when you are in gratitude.

4). Throughout your day stop and feel gratitude, notice what is positive in others and give someone a compliment. It gives us energy to see the good in others.

5). When you find yourself in a negative situation, ask yourself what can I learn from this experience and what can or will I be grateful for?

Wendy

Back on track – Kidney donor

The pain I felt waking up from surgery forced me into a state of  feeling the present moment. In this space of not looking forward nor behind is where I eventually found my souls true joy.

After donating my kidney I felt as though I had a clean slate. I was acutely aware that I had let go of baggage particularly around feeling worthy in the world I inhibited. My problems didn’t go away, but my sense of self changed immensely. I felt happy, lighter and open to life’s challenges. I had been putting emotions and life’s chores on the back burner far too long.

Over the next year I found a sense of joy that reached me to the core. No longer did negative events in my life shut me down. Instead life flowed easily throughout my days. Not naming things bad or good, I stopped telling my story and just appreciated. I can remember my Father saying, ” life is not easy, it’s hard”.  And now, I find life for the first time easy.photo

And then..

As we all know change is imminent. We cannot nor should we stand still. Nothing stays the same, particularly if you are like me who gets energized by growth.

As I enter this next chapter, I find myself challenged. In a new city where home is a hotel room and doing interesting work with new challenges to open my mind. In life, it can be both bitter and sweet.  I get energy from learning, growing and being around people who are intelligent, kind and passionate. However, the slightly bitter side is selling my home, leaving my friends and family who are so far away and of course the unknown.

A change of self can sneak up quickly, particularly when we are in the fast lane.  It’s here that I find myself feeling weathered, alone and emotionally drained. I then look for what is wrong and complain to myself, “I miss, I wish, I want” and it’s then that I realize I am heading in the wrong direction. These thoughts do not empower me, they in fact drain me.

I quickly re-connect and that does the trick. I simply turn my complaints into what I appreciate. These opportunities to grow, to love and to be challenged and to trust that I am exactly where I choose to be.

I reflect and realize its simply my attitude that has changed and I find the joy in each moment flowing through my veins and I am happy once again.

Back on track.  Wendy

Choices in life’s defining moments! Living Kidney Donor

It’s hard to imagine that a loss of this magnitude would leave us at choice. I remember writing at the timeI must find a way to feel whole again and let go of the pain, so that I can feel the joy of having Kyle in my life“.

My son Kyle and I

My son Kyle and I

It was January 7, 1984 and I was 24 years old when my first son Kyle was born. He was beautiful with blond hair, blue eyes and barely 3 pounds. I remember feeling so happy that I had a part of carrying this beautiful baby into the world. As a young Mother I felt unsure and didn’t particularly like or know myself. However, when Kyle was born, all of that changed.

We have all had loss in life and often these moments define us. For me, it taught me about love and choice. I quickly realized after my son passed away 3 weeks after birth that I had serious life decisions to make.

  • How was I going to let this affect my life?
  • How would this influence me as a young women?
  • Would I live in fear?
  • Would I be open to love?

I chose to keep Kyle close and to honor the time we had. To not question what I couldn’t answer and to trust in life.  I have learned to be a more loving person and a better Mom to my two sons. I found a new path in life and got away from things I wanted and focused on moments I had.

What choices have you made from life’s defining moments?

Wendy

About Wendy:  Another defining moment! This blog began as I looked for an outlet to write about my experience in donating my kidney on August 16th of 2012.  I went through the surgery and came out stronger and more grateful that I was able to donate on behalf of my brother Tim.

 

Giving

Donating a kidney has been a catalyst to finding joy in my life. Part of this journey was staying at the family home just two days after donation.

At the family house I connected with a dozen or more families who had a loved one in need or were receiving an organ. My own situation seemed trivial at the time. The worries that kept me up at night suddenly felt wasteful. I found myself feeling present and seeing the world entirely different. 

I love this excerpt from David Whyte’s poem “Giving”.To give is to make our own identities more real in the world by committing to something specific in the other person and something tangible that could represent that quality. To give is also to carry out the difficult task of putting something of our own essence in what we have given”.

Giving takes practice and commitment in seeing the other person. Isn’t that what we all want? To be seen? Some of the stories I hear from friends this holiday season are about simple moments of giving. Someone that cares and takes the time to listen with humility, or small acts of kindness from strangers.

Home for the Holidays

Home for the Holidays

On this Christmas Day I find myself grateful for having my grown children under the same roof, the health of my family and friends and the love that we share. The blanket of snow that covers the ground and the sun that pours in through the window makes a beautiful day.

My wish for everyone today is to take a moment and appreciate the gifts in your life.

Wendy

 

 

Combining lifes lessons to find joy! Happy Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving Day and I can remember the anticipation of my family getting together for the holidays! It seems like so long go… when I was a child with five other siblings, my Mom would rush home from work and we would go to the grocery store on the money my parents earned that week. She would buy all this wonderful food that we didn’t ordinarily have in the house for a very special dinner.

Cooking a big dinner was a lot of work and yet it was a simpler time. We were all happy in  anticipation of the meal. Plus, for us kids it meant Christmas would be here soon. Our home was always noisy with lots of running around, a few fights between us kids and always a sentimental word at the table.  As we grew older our family expanded and we continued to get together for holidays.

But now we are literally spread around the world. With my youngest son in Japan, my oldest son and his fiance in Los Angles,  and my siblings and their families living in various places across the country.

Even though so much has changed, including the loss of my Dad in August there is much to be grateful for. I have learned particularly in the past few years that being joyful– is based on focusing on what I have and what is going well versus the opposite.

I was always adamant with my kids as they were growing up saying “We don’t get to choose what comes at us, but we do get to control how we respond in any situation”. For me, I have been tested many times throughout my life and I haven’t always done well. My ah ha moment came when I was 24 years old when my first son passed away. I was devastated! I remember Father Dunn at the burial service telling me that I was at choice in how this would affect my life. Those words empowered me, they continue to empower me.

By combining these two life lessons, I have found joy!

  • Focusing on what is good in life, appreciation for what I have
  • Empowering myself in how I respond to life’s events

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am grateful for family, friends, life’s opportunities and health!

Night Wendy

Marketing yourself in a social world. Free whitepaper for people in need of a organ transplant..

I was reading a post tonight about a young women asking for a kidney for Christmas. Many of us ask for a piece of jewelry or perhaps the latest gadget. Yet so many others wait for a phone call that will change their life….. we found a kidney and its a match!

Did you know that one in 10 American adults, more than 20 million, have some level of CKD? Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal said Doctors often don’t test for kidney disease, and patients may have no symptoms until they are in crisis. Yet kidney disease is fast becoming a dangerous health threat, and one of the most costly. The most common test screens urine for an excess amount of a protein called albumin, often the first sign of kidney damage.

Every week on various forums I see people sharing their stories of giving to another and it’s really beautiful.

Still 13 people die each day while waiting for a life-saving transplant, nearly 3,000 new patients are added to the kidney waiting list each month. National Kidney Foundation

How can you help?  

1. Get educated

Marketing yourself in a social world.

Marketing yourself in a social world.

2. Find someone to advocate on your or friends behalf

3. Be aware that you can register on more than one Kidney Paired Donation (KPD) program.

4. Download our white paper….We took the concept of “finding a donor” in today’s social world and created a plan! Some of our content includes; creating a strategy, how to write a press release, ideas for raising awareness, the role of an advocate, developing your message, and so much more. Please take a moment to sign up and download this free paper and share your feedback. A special thank you to my friends, all marketing gurus!  

  • Gini Keck who painstakingly proofed this paper over and over again,
  • Rebecca Johnson Menedez who contributed “how to get your message to the press”. Writing a press release.
  • Mary Beth Lowery for your well thought out suggestions.
  • Shelly Dinan for all your contributions in writing and consult!
  • Mike Sukhenko for your amazing design and layout

How about a challenge? As the holidays quickly approach, I challenge you to do one small thing every day for another human being? Share your stories and spread the word!

Wendy

As the poet David Whyte wrote “Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work, a future. To be courageous, is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences”.

About Wendy – A kidney donor myself a little over a year ago I continue to feel gratitude. Although I was not a match for my brother, I was still able to give through the kidney paired exchange program. Obviously this was a huge benefit to my brother and he is doing well, However, I did not expect the gift I would receive in return! read more