79. The Gift of Life

79. The Gift of Life

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Happily Ever After

The Gift of Life

I fell in love with my husband, Mike, after our first date. I had invited him to a Sadie Hawkins dance. He wasn’t my first choice, but I am so glad fate had it that he was my second! A friend had encouraged me to invite him, saying, “Mike’s the type of guy you could be with for the rest of your life.” What wisdom from a sixteen-year-old!

He had every quality a girl could want. Handsome, kind, respectful, loving and caring... basically the very best friend a girl could have! He was a big high school football player, and I felt like a princess when I was with him.

We dated into college, and with the Vietnam War facing us squarely in the face, we decided to get married. Yes, we were too young, but we would not back down on our decision, even without the support and blessings of our family. Love knows no obstacles.

On a short honeymoon trip to Corpus Christi, Texas, Mike developed serious stomach pains. Terrified, I called the hotel desk to be referred to a local physician. The doctor said he was passing a kidney stone, and we should return home immediately. I remember the long, four-hour drive home. The wind was horrendous, and in those days cars did not have power steering! I could not hold the car on the road, so Mike, suffering incredibly, took the wheel of the car and took us safely home. He was my hero.

This incident began a long journey of living with chronic kidney disease. Mike never made the trip to Vietnam as he was immediately given a medical discharge from the service. He finished college and started a career as a manufacturer’s rep in the furniture business. We had two wonderful sons. I made a career of being a full-time wife and mother.

Over a period of twenty years there were many hospital stays, kidney biopsies and some very scary moments. But with Mike’s character and positive attitude, he would always bounce back and return to being a normal father and husband. On the outside looking in, we seemed to be an average, happy family, but on the inside, I lived each day wondering when the black cloud over us would finally burst.

In 1987, his time was running out, and the only alternative was to be put on a dialysis machine and go on the list for a transplant. Before starting the treatments, I surprised him with a trip to the beach, where he played one of the best rounds of golf he had ever played. He was so weak and so gray in color, and it was his fortieth birthday. For the first time in our married lives, he told me he felt defeated. He had fought going on the machine for as long as he possibly could. My heart was broken, even though I was grateful that this machine would keep him alive.

He approached the dialysis just like everything else he did in life. He made a game of it and would never allow it to bring him down. He would leave the treatments weak as a cat, eat a meal and go right back to work. People were just amazed at him.

Meanwhile, the list of people ahead of him was long, and relatives were ruled out for the transplant. To this day, I still cannot explain where this strange feeling came from, but I remember vividly sitting in the doctor’s office with Mike’s sister. He was explaining to her why she could not be a donor, when a voice in my head said, “You will do it.” It was so clear and so precise, and I have never before nor since heard a voice speak to me like that. I never doubted from that moment that I would be the donor, even though it sounded impossible at the time.

I kept thinking about it, and the answer came to me very easily. On the next visit with the doctor, I told him, “Look, Mike and I have the same blood type, is this correct? A cadaver kidney only has to match by blood type, correct? Okay, so if I got run over by a car today and killed, then my kidney would work for him, correct?” The doctor just looked at me as I pleaded my case. “So, let’s let him have it while I’m alive to enjoy the rest of our lives together.... How about it?”

Sure sounded easy to me, but the answer was a flat no. A living, nonrelated donor could not donate a kidney. Saying no to me was like waving a red flag in front of a mad bull.

I spent hours researching and found that in the state of Wisconsin, husband-and-wife transplants had been done several times. So why not in Texas?

I gathered some support from a few physicians, and the case went before the hospital board. It took a while for them to reach a decision, and they even asked us to go through psychological testing. (I guess they wanted to make sure I wasn’t crazy.) We both laughed driving home from the testing, because we could almost read each other’s minds. He’d say, “I knew you would give that answer for that question,” and I would reply, “Yeah, and I know which one you chose too!” Thank God we could laugh a little!

The Methodist Hospital board and staff in Dallas were finally convinced and ready to go. I never dreamed the delay might come from my own husband! The more he thought about it, the more he could not stand the idea of me going into surgery for him. After all this, he said he didn’t think he could go through with it. In a quiet and very emotional moment, I just asked him the simple question, “I have watched you fight and be there for our family for the last nineteen years. We have been through all this together. Now what if it were me on that machine, and you knew you could do something to make me well? What would YOU do?” The surgery was scheduled.

Fourteen years ago, Mike and I made Texas history as the first husband/wife (living, nonrelated) transplant. I received phone calls from people all over the country wanting to do the same thing. Now it is not uncommon for nonrelated donors to be allowed to give “the gift of life.”

Making history has never impressed me that much, but having a healthy husband for the last fourteen years, and looking at many more to come, is far more important.

 

~Margo Molthan
Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul

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