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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

 

The gift, reconnecting with my Dad.

Our behaviors and experiences are often fueled by what happened in the past.  He passed away a four years ago today and before he left this world, he gave me a wonderful gift.

My Dad renovating our house in Kendall, NY

My Dad renovating our house in Kendall, NY

 

 

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.

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

Ten Lessons We Learned Beyond Strala Poses

As I board the train to Tarrytown at the close of another weekend, I contemplate the past few months since beginning the Strala Ready-To-Lead yoga training in NYC; I am pleasantly surprised at how much I have grown since beginning the program a few months ago.  It seems to be the case time after time that whenever I feel the most uncomfortable and challenged, is precisely when I learn the most.

tissue donor

I signed up for the Strala training program not knowing anything about it. I have taken countless yoga classes over the past 5 years, but the transition to Strala style has really helped me connect to my inner me as well as to others in the class.

To understand Strala is to understand Tara Stiles. She is extremely approachable, respectful and has a natural ease about her, very much like the style of yoga she developed – Strala. The basis of guiding Strala is built on attitude which for Tara is about energy, interest in others and connection.

My 2014 Ready-to-Lead class was a unique group of individuals from many different cultures from all over the world!  As Tara Stiles, founder of Strala yoga, would often say, “Our classes are made up of a wide variety of people with different experiences and that’s what keeps it interesting, rather than everyone looking and acting the same”.

I spoke with several of my classmates about their personal take-aways from participating in the Ready To Lead 2014 Class. Here are ten of those lessons learned.

*Special thank you to my fellow Strala guides for your input:  Matt Neely, Laura Brady, Natalie Powell, and Lyz Keating

1. Be Yourself – On my first day of teacher training, my biggest fear going into this class was that I would be the oldest and that I would not be able to do the poses as well as the other students.  As my uptight mindset grew over the initial weeks, I found myself feeling like I was not enough and separating from the group. I finally reached a point where the pain became too big and I needed to either move on or accept myself.  I chose to change my attitude and just be me. When I did this everything else changed. I could see that all of us were having similar experiences and that by separating myself I was missing the experience as a whole. How often do we this in life?

2. Find Your Voice – Coming from a large family, we were taught, kids should be seen and not heard. As a result, I have learned to take up less space in hopes of not getting noticed.  As a guide in Strala to be effective we need to be our best selves and that means connecting with everyone in the room. Therefore, as guides we practice using our body and voice to connect with everyone in the room.

3. Breathe – Always come back to your breath. With breath we are able to deepen our poses, let go of emotion, and stay present.

4. Let Go of Knowing – Lyz a ballet dancer for most of her life has been trained to be precise in every pose. Recently while at a Broadway show with friends to see a fellow friend perform. Lyz said, “my friends asked if I would teach them to break down each yoga pose”.  My friends reminded me how far I have come in letting go of needing to know.  In Strala, the primary goal is to create space in your body and to do yoga in a way that is right for you. As a guide we are taught to guide movement and not pose.

5. Did You Say Play? We had one session at Strala where we learned Children’s yoga (animal yoga).  I found myself really enjoying it, I realized I had let go of play in my life. I had become much too serious with all of life’s responsibilities. Creating space in your life to play whether you are in yoga practice or everyday life is an important reminder. I have learned to let go and say yes to fun more often.

6. Create Space – For Natalie, her Strala journey has created space in her life. Natalie said, “With space comes a new sense of feeling calm, inspired and stronger”. “It makes me feel clear about knowing what I want and who I want to surround myself with. We are the artists of our lives and Strala has taught me that it is simple to design a life you love”.

7. Trust your intuition – “Strala encourages you to make your own choices on the mat for what feels good in your body”, said Laura. “It comes down to trusting your intuition by creating a flow that is right for you. I have learned to pay attention and take this outside of my practice and into my life”.

8. Find Your Balance – In life and on the mat finding our balance can be different each day. Knowing that keeping our balance can often feel like a tree swaying in the breeze (or a storm) our roots are deep and we can draw from that strength.

9. Take Care of You – As a guide it’s imperative that we be our best selves to connect with the class. When you are feeling good you can spread that goodness with others.

10. Permission to go at your Own Pace – For Matt, his biggest lesson is giving yourself   permission to progress at your own pace and rather than arbitrarily attempt to hit external benchmarks. Matt said, “I think this is a big part of Strala’s philosophy, giving yourself space and freedom to do what feels right to you at that moment and knowing that in time, what you’re going for will come whether it’s a handstand or a deeper connection to yourself”.

Thank you Tara Stiles and your team of amazing Strala guides for a life changing experience!.  You created a fun, safe and enlightening space for all of us to grow and connect as Strala guides.

Namaste
Wendy ~

More…

 

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

Loving over judging – Why do we compare?

organ and tissue donation

“The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being. Dali Lama

So why do we compare? Does it give us an opportunity to justify our own actions? Or perhaps make us feel worthier than our counterpart or even more so– to separate ourselves from others.  We all judge on some level and some more than others.  Families can often be the worse. We are often programmed to compete, to compare, and criticize and it can cycle through to the next generation.

How can we stop this behaviour? First, we need to be aware of our thoughts and what is going on within ourselves. We often judge others simply because of our own personal experiences.  Haven’t you had times in your life when you were extremely good and other times when you were not nice, maybe even terrible?

If we can have the awareness that in life, sometimes we are up and other times we are down. And that life is like a wave of not just our emotions, but also based on our experiences in this world. Perhaps we would be less inclined to point the finger at others. Why must we judge so harshly, particularly when change is constant within all of us?

I love this quote  “Cultivating a close, warmhearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease“. Dali Lama

So true, it takes energy to be angry, to repeat your stories and think negatively. While it gives us energy to care for others and to be grateful for what we have.

You and I are in control of our emotions in any given situation. Why not choose loving over judging?

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