I believe in the power of organ donation to animate several lives.
More than twenty years ago, my wife and I faced an unusual situation. Our high school senior, our boy, had End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). This was not surprising because he had a medical history of kidney disease since he was a toddler. What caught us off guard was his doctor’s flat declaration after routine testing: “He will need a kidney transplant . . . soon.”
We asked what the options were and the doctor said, in short, live donor or wait for a cadaver organ. For a 17-year-old, renal dialysis was not a good long-term solution and we knew the organ waiting list would be long and the timing unreliable. So my wife and I were tested; I was the viable candidate. Funny, his mother first gave him life, now his father could give him a second chance at it. I was afraid, as perhaps a first-time mother-to-be might be afraid. At the same time, like that mother-to-be, I was elated too, with the chance to be a hero just like her.
We did the transplant of my 40-year-old kidney into my son–he in one operating room with the transplant team, I in another with the kidney procurement team, his mother and her sister in the waiting room. We scheduled it in June just after his high school graduation. The success of the procedure was evident to his operating room staff immediately when the transplanted kidney “pinked up” and went to work.
By fall, with new energy he didn’t know he had been missing, my son entered college right on schedule. After graduating college, he did a year of volunteer work advocating for the poor and then he entered law school. Work followed law school, then marriage, then children. Along the way, that used kidney of mine failed him, but this time, with survival rates virtually equal between live donor and cadaver organs and with the uncommon generosity of an unknown donor, a transplant team replaced that kidney with another.
My son is strong-willed when it comes to beating medical problems but the organ donations gave him a vigorous life I don’t think would have been possible on the renal dialysis roller coaster. And the donation gives me a renewed sense of delight with each of his family’s milestones: his eldest girl “graduating” first grade; his twins just now acquiring language.
The power of organ transplantation to invigorate my son’s life is undeniable medical fact. But, I also believe in the power of organ donation to animate the donor’s life—to animate my life. I believe this above all when I visit my son’s home and feel the joy that informs my days now, when three bright-eyed little girls run up to me calling out, “Grampa!”
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.