Donor! Six things I learned from organ donation

 

It was five 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.

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 County it was quite an adventure! Our road trips over the past few 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 included six weeks healing and then 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 so 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