66: What If It Had Been Me?

66: What If It Had Been Me?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back

What If It Had Been Me?

Give freely to the world these gifts of love and compassion. Do not concern yourself with how much you receive in return, just know in your heart it will be returned.

~Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

Sitting alone in my office on a late December evening in 2013, I was too tired to do any more work, yet also too tired to face the hour-long commute home. Scrolling aimlessly through Facebook, I came across a news story about two children in Atlanta, Georgia and the one wish they had for Christmas. It wasn’t a wish for the latest video game, or smart phone — it was a wish for a kidney. Not a kidney for either one of them, but for their beloved grandmother. After learning that no family or close friends were a match, and with the help of their mother, they set up a Facebook page called “A Kidney for Gran.” They were asking everyone, anyone, to help.

I was struck by these kids’ selfless nature, but I was also deeply moved by their decision to reach out to a world full of strangers, hoping for a miracle. What if I needed a kidney and no one I knew was a match? How hard would I pray every night that someone would not only be a match, but also agree to share a vital organ with a total stranger? How full of fear would the people closest to me be wondering how much longer we had together? What kind of person would willingly endure travel, months of testing and major surgery — to help a stranger live?

That kind of person turned out to be me. An average forty-eight-year-old divorcée from California with four kids, a full-time job in high tech and a belief that we should do unto others as we would have them do for us.

Sharing a blood type with the grandmother in need was the first sign that I should throw my hat in the ring. The next sign was simply a quiet voice inside me that said, “You know of the need and you can meet it. You’ll be fine.”

I picked up my cell phone and dialed the Piedmont Transplant Center in Atlanta. I left my contact information. Within a week I was contacted by a transplant coordinator, a kind woman with a warm Southern drawl. She asked questions; I answered them. After going over my answers with one of the transplant doctors it was decided that I was a viable candidate, and thus began my eight months of multiple blood tests, urine tests, travel to Stanford Hospital for a nuclear “glofil” kidney clearance test, and travel to Atlanta the next May for a full physical, mental and social evaluation.

From a treadmill stress test and a CT scan of my vascular system to a psychological exam and a review with a social worker of every personal facet of my life, no stone was left unturned.

I was not a direct match for the grandmother, who I now knew as Beverly, but I agreed to enter into the paired donation program, where another team who is not a direct match for each other would essentially “trade” kidneys with us. What this meant was that I went from volunteering to save one life to being a part of a trade that would save two lives.

During the eight months of testing I had plenty of time to think, and I received input from friends, family and strangers. Most were encouraging, some not, but only out of fear for my safety. Through it all, I never felt like I needed to turn back or rescind my offer. As simple as it sounds, it was the right thing to do. And I was never afraid. I imagined myself in Beverly’s shoes. What if it had been me?

Once the testing was complete, we were entered into a database of other potential donor/recipient teams. We had an immediate match, but the recipient had too many antibodies against me. The second match came just as quickly and after a bit more testing it was confirmed: The transplant surgery would be on August 26th, 2014.

With my twenty-three-year-old in tow, I flew to Atlanta and back to the Southern hospitality of Beverly’s family and the Piedmont Transplant Center on August 24th. Our families now inextricably bonded, my son waited with Beverly’s family while my kidney was removed and flown to New Jersey, and a new kidney was flown to Atlanta and transplanted into Beverly. Bev’s new kidney started to work immediately as did mine for the recipient in Jersey. The surgeries were a total success.

After a week of recovery I flew back to California and back to my life. Beverly is healthy and active again with her family and friends. Another person is healthy again as well, having given a new home to my kidney. I wish him or her the very best.

I came away from the experience knowing it was I who received the blessing. How often in life are we called to do the heroic, to set aside our fears and selfish natures to voluntarily help another person live? I don’t feel like a hero. I feel like I paid forward a life debt and I would gladly do it all over again. During the psychological evaluation, the psychiatrist, with his measured Southern tone, asked, “What in the world would possess you to donate a kidney to a person you do not know?” My answer was simple, “What if it had been me? What if I needed one and my only hope was a stranger? I would hope someone would step up.”

What if it had been me, indeed.

~Leslie Calderoni

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