As many of you know, Patrick received a kidney transplant almost a year ago. We named his kidney Sidney. We talk about Sidney quite a bit.
“I think Sidney’s a girl.”
“Sidney likes wine. I’m going to get her another glass. She’s kind of a lush.”
“I can’t eat raw sushi anymore because of Sidney.”
“Do you think Sidney would like to listen to some blues?”
And so forth.
When Sidney came into our lives, the transplant team couldn't tell us much about where she came from because of privacy laws. All they would say was that she came from a young donor. We didn't know what they meant by ‘young.’ Younger than 40? Younger than 30? A teenager?
At the time, we didn't think about it too much, except to feel gratitude. Patrick’s transplant surgery was textbook perfect. When they wheeled him out of the recovery room, I couldn't believe the transformation. You pray for instant healing, but you don’t really believe it’s possible—but then I saw him, flushed with color, not the least bit nauseous from the anesthesia. The kidney was already functioning, which doesn't always happen.
He was only in the hospital for four days. At home, he wore shorts around the house. I remember sitting next to him on the couch and looking down at his legs. I realized that, after four years of dialysis, I had gotten used to his skin looking gray and withered-looking. Now it looked healthy-- young and smooth and pink.
In July, we sent a thank-you letter to the donor’s family. Any correspondence between donor and recipient goes through the transplant center. We sent it—kind of uncertainly, but we sent it. We thanked them for thinking of others even in their time of grief. It sounds kind of weak, doesn’t it? It felt kind of weak. But what else do you do?
Since then, my Catholic guilt went into overdrive, survivor's guilt so powerful it almost paralyzes me. What have we done, that we should be worthy of this? How can we live our lives so that we can be worthy of it? Every day, I think of our benefactor. I think of how, somewhere, across six states, there may be as many as 49 other people who carry pieces of the same person inside their bodies. It gives you the strangest sense of community, of kinship. Then I think of their family, and I can’t imagine how devastated they must be, the extent of their loss.
So many questions. So much to think about.
There have still been some rough times. No instantaneous cures. Patrick had to have follow-up surgeries-- one to remove his dialysis catheter, and one to remove the stent the doctor put in between his bladder and the new (to us) kidney. He had a severe allergic reaction to one of the new medications they had prescribed which sent us back to the hospital. We continued to struggle for several months with getting his phosphorus levels normal. We continue to struggle with appetite and digestive issues. In January, he had to have his wisdom teeth pulled, and he got sick from the anesthetic, which caused some distress—he has to take his anti-rejection medication on time, twice a day. If he doesn't, then the body can begin the rejection process in as little as 15 minutes. If he is vomiting and can’t keep down the medication, then he has to go into the hospital to receive the drugs intravenously. I spent a nerve-wracking day watching over him, poised to rush him to the ER like I've done so many times in the past. But he managed to keep down the pills.
There was a flurry of follow-up appointments with doctors, with the transplant team. He had to have blood draws twice a week, then once a week, then every other week. Now we’re down to the minimum: blood draws once a month. It will be so for as long as he has this kidney, which we hope will be for a very long time.
Transplant recipients are at-risk for skin cancer, so he’s been advised to wear sunblock when he goes out. Now he smells perpetually of summertime, and wears a broad-brimmed hat.
He’s gotten a part-time job. He’s gone back to school. To look at him, you’d never think he’d been sick a day in his life.
In all this time, we hadn't heard back from the donor family. I had started to think that we never would—not that I blamed them.
Then, last month, a letter came in a pink envelope. That letter told us a story.
Here’s the story:
Once upon a time, there was a girl. The girl lived with her mother, her father, her sister and her brother. She wanted to be a nurse. But instead, she died on June 12, 2012. She was 17.
She happened to live in Region Eight of the Organ Procurement & Transplantation Network. Region Eight consists of Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Wyoming.
The girl had a beautiful spirit. Her family knew that she would want to help others. So they donated her organs. The average organ donor can help or save up to 50 people.
If she had lived, she would have graduated from high school next month. And yet, she lives. New blood pumps through her heart, her eyes see new sights. She may have helped or saved up to 50 people directly. Indirectly, the impact she has had on the world has been incalculable.
Somewhere, we all know we have a special angel, our superhero. Someone so pure and powerful, death cannot undo them. We are lucky enough to know of her intercession, her grace. We are lucky enough to know her name. With every breath, we sing her praises.