99: A Second Second Chance

99: A Second Second Chance

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles

A Second Second Chance

To give and not expect return, that is what lies at the heart of love.

~Oscar Wilde

It was early October 2003. I was exhausted, my body filled with excess fluid and my mind focused on worst-case scenarios as we drove past a blur of scenery. Henry gripped the steering wheel, knuckles pale, and turned to gaze at me with a look that—for a moment — washed all my fears and doubts away. I knew by the look in his eyes that his love would see us safely to the hospital despite the twenty-odd staples down his front from the bypass surgery he’d had barely a week earlier. As I touched his forearm, he grinned and stepped on the gas.

In a whirlwind, we arrived at the hospital, an emergency catheter was inserted into a vein in my neck and I started on dialysis. Again.

Henry and I had faced more challenges than most. We’d both grown up with Type 1 diabetes. We’d both experienced kidney failure and had gone on dialysis and the kidney-pancreas waiting list. This was how we met. Only a couple of months apart in 1997, we each had our prayers answered for a second chance at a better future.

And now, here I was, seven years later in need of another kidney transplant. I reached out to family members, a number of whom were tested. None were a match. I reached out to friends. Again, testing was done, but no match was found. My hope dwindled. And the usual sparkle in my spirit faded to barely a flicker.

As always, throughout that winter and spring, Henry stood by me. He drove me to dialysis and eagerly went for any possible type of take-out I thought I might try to eat to keep up my strength. He even helped do chores around the house. He did admit feeling helpless to do anything “to really make a difference.” How I wished he knew what a big deal it was.

That summer Henry went on a mission. He recorded a video message at a booth set up by a local news station. With his usual charm, he pleaded into the camera’s microphone for someone to come forward to help me.

He phoned the news station and repeatedly left messages. At fifty I lost track but at last he found an editor who would listen. Henry’s message appeared on television late one night. My heart swelled as I watched and listened to the man I loved reach out for help. “Consider donating a kidney to my wife,” he said through a smile, but on the verge of tears. “She’s my world. I need her to be here, healthy, and with me for as long as possible.” As he flashed a boyish grin at the end of the clip, tears filled my eyes, although I held onto little hope that it would bring me the kind of help I needed.

Then a news reporter called. She wanted our story. It ran as the second top story of the evening news. The station called us to say that they’d never had such an overwhelming response to a story. Their phones wouldn’t stop ringing. By the end of the night, they had compiled a list of over five hundred names of people interested in being tested to see if they were a match to give me a kidney. I couldn’t believe it! It was too good to be true.

During a meeting with the transplant co-ordinator, I was told that unless a willing donor was a relative or a close friend prior to my needing a kidney, not one of the thoughtful souls who offered would be allowed to donate one to me. At that time, it was against protocol. Crushed by disappointment, it was all I could do to get up and go through the motions.

In the meantime, our story continued to run for nearly a week. That Friday the phone rang. Reluctantly I answered it and a voice from my past declared, “Susan? Remember me? It’s Tracey . . .”

Although a grade apart, Tracey and I had gone through public and high school together. During that time, her dad had suffered kidney failure. Unbeknownst to me back then, Tracey had hoped to donate her kidney to him, but wasn’t able to do so before he passed away. Because of this, she had vowed—if the opportunity ever arose—to donate one for someone else. By chance her children had left the television on the channel that ran our story. By chance she’d caught one of the broadcasts out of the corner of her eye and recognized me.

She was eager, and determined. “I’m on my way this minute to get tested. Where do I need to go?” And so our journey began.

As we sat side by side in the stalls having our blood drawn, Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” played softly on the radio. “Please,” I silently begged the universe. “Please let us be a match.” After we left the lab, Tracey pressed the fresh bandage into the crook of her elbow, eyes wide. Flooded with panic that she’d changed her mind and wanted to back out, I asked, “What’s wrong?”

“That was the song played at my dad’s service,” Tracey whispered. “He was there with us, Susan. It’ll all work out just fine. I just know it.”

The shiver that ran through me left me breathless.

A short while later we received news that “we couldn’t have been a better match if we’d been twin sisters,” which may or may not have been a slight exaggeration.

And so, in the fall of 2004—nearly a year to the day after Henry’s heart surgery — Tracey and I underwent surgery with the reporter and her cameraman who’d followed my story from the start in tow. Afterward, I awoke feeling strong, filled with energy and somehow “cleansed” from the inside out.

A day or so later, I was told how the cameraman zoomed in on my innards just as the surgeon declared that, “the new kidney produced urine right then and there.”

According to Mom, as the family watched the news coverage, Dad proudly declared to anyone who would listen, “That’s my girl! She peed on TV!”

Watching Dad as he stood at the end of my hospital bed recounting his tale again, this time to Henry—who gazed at me with the same look of reassurance as the day he’d first taken me to the hospital to have the dialysis catheter installed—I hoped with all my heart that Tracey’s dad would shed no more “Tears in Heaven. I hoped that instead he was grinning with relief and pride for the gift of a better, healthier and longer life his daughter had given to me because of him, and because of a husband whose love was, and is, boundless.

~Susan Blakeney

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