Thursday, January 27, 2011

hello, julia... how's my kidney?

After pondering for several days and memorizing my internal script, I decided to call my recipient on Christmas Eve 2010. I felt this would be the best time to reach out to her. Three months had passed, we were both most likely feeling pretty good, and it was Christmas and I get a little melancholy at that time of the year. She included a phone number in her 'reach-out' letter to me after her transplant, and my mentor (Cara), suggested that she wouldn't have included it if she wouldn't welcome a call from me. I thought everything through, including the exact time of day that I felt would be the most convenient for her to receive a call from her donor. The last thing I wanted was for her to be in the middle of wrapping gifts, boozin' it up with eggnogg, entertaining friends and family, or at a church service. I wanted it to be just right. I wanted my palms to stop sweating and my voice to stop shaking.

Julia's beautiful letter written to me. I just had to frame it.

Making that exciting phone call after a first date never came close to the anxiety I felt before dialing. I had gone over, again and again, what I was going to say. I coached myself to not talk too long, not too short, don't be shy but don't be too animated, don't drop the "f-bomb", etc. Was it appropriate to ask her about her medical condition that led her to the transplant list? Was it ok for me to ask for visitation rights? Was it too intrusive to inquire about her family, lifestyle, recovery, etc. So, I said, "Hello, Julia... how's my kidney?" Nothing like puttin' myself out there, eh? I mean, what could she say, "Who is this?" Who else would it be?

We've all had those moments in life where we finally get to speak to someone that we have seen in photos and anticipated how they might sound, and how we can feel their personality come through the phone. I was dead on, when I heard her voice - kind, articulate, very feminine, compassionate, grateful and enthusiastic. And I'm sure she thought I sounded like a truck stop waitress that inhaled 2 packs of Kools a day. I was pleasantly surprised as to how comfortable our conversation flowed. I had a list of questions, but knew that I would edit them as the conversation progressed. It was like we were old friends making that 'catch up' phone call on the holiday after not speaking for a year. We gabbed like I used to gab when I was 18, spending hours on the phone with my BFF. My heart was filled with so much love when I talked to her. There are very few people in my life that I feel really do listen when I speak and I could tell that she listened with her heart. Aw, a warm and fuzzy moment.

I did ask her, with her permission, to share with me her medical condition that would eventually lead me to be a part of her life. When Julia got married, she and her husband decided to have a child immediately. During her ultrasound, the doctor found that she only had one kidney. It's rare, but it does happen, to about 1 in 750 people. As the months passed, she began to get sick, and her kidney was failing. They had to induce labor very early in her pregnancy, at about 6 months. The baby was fine, but Julia was not. She went into a coma and suffered a stroke. She recovered but the condition of her kidney worsened, and was not going to get any better. The doctors told her that when her kidney was diminished to functioning at only 13%, she could be put on the transplant list. She was able to run dialysis in the evenings, which allowed her to continue to work, but her lifestyle suffered physical limitations.

Ding, ding, ding.... enter, me! :-)  So then I yank my kidney out, toss it in a cooler and ship it to her FedEx so she can borrow it for a while. Julia's doctor gave her permission to go back to work on January 10th. She said she feels fantastic, and that my kidney is doing a fine job. Phew. The thought did cross my mind before I called her that my kidney may not be fairing as well as she and I anticipated. Then what do I do? Send her a Starbucks gift card and a letter of apology?

I'm not exactly one to get too excited about Christmas, but I can honestly say that this phone call was the best gift anyone could have given me. I can't think of a better recipient that I have been blessed with to receive my kidney. I know that there are altruistic donors out there that never have contact with their recipients, and I understand that sometimes it's the wish of the donor and sometimes the wish of the recipient. Not knowing my recipient after the surgery never would have altered my decision to become a non-directed donor, but I feel so lucky to have such a special connection now to someone that will forever be a part of my life.

Until next time... I'm counting the days til Spring!!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

new year. new you.

I made plans for New Year's Eve - something I haven't done in about four years. I was never really one to do much for this annual night of celebration. It's typically very cold here in Albany and I would much prefer to stay in with a good flick, some yummy take-out and a bottle of bubby I can hog to myself. This year I decided to do something very different.

About a month ago, I had this spontaneous idea to fly to Chicago to meet two very special ladies... my donor mentors. I couldn't think of a better way to ring in the new year, than to celebrate it with two women that have made such an impact in my life. Both of these women reside in Chicago and it just seemed so perfect for me to take advantage of their proximity to one another. I called Cara Yesawich and asked her what she thought. Kinda weird calling someone you've never met and basically inviting yourself to stay with them for a few days to celebrate New Year's Eve. Just as I expected, she was more than happy to have me and I immediately contacted my other mentor, Robyn Wheatley, to let her know of my plans, hoping she would be just as receptive. She was.  I bought my tickets the next day and since then, it was almost all I could think about.

The opportunity to meet these women was something I never really thought would ever happen. I decided that I need to begin making these important moments in my life start happening.  I have a habit of saying "I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna do that..." and I never do any of it. It's all well thought out, but it never really happens. Shame on me. Life is too short and I have decided that when something means that much to me, I need to do everything possible to bring it to fruition. I was scheduled to depart Albany on Thursday afternoon, and then return on Sunday afternoon. A nice long weekend with two very beautiful women and an opportunity to tear up the Windy City into 2011, together - the three' kidney sisters.'

My trip never happened. Cara called several days ago to tell me that she was needed to care for a dear friend who had become ill. I could hear it in her voice how hesitant she was to tell me, for fear of disappointing me and ruining our New Year's Eve plans. She was right, I was disappointed. I was disappointed that I would not be able to see her and Robyn. But, I was relieved and not all that surprised that she didn't hesitate to come to the need of her friend. Cara is one of the most selfless people I know. Of course I would understand and quite honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way.  She needs to be with her friend, and canceling my flight took all of 3 minutes. No big deal. I will reschedule for a trip in Spring and explore the city with them when we can wear our flip-flops instead of our snowsuits.

Friday afternoon I decided I would spend my New Year's attending a performance by Savion Glover performing locally here at  The Egg . Three years ago I had tickets to see him and became violently ill at a pre-performance dinner with a friend and had to eat the tickets. I should have eaten the tickets, literally, then I wouldn't have barfed all over the place. So, when I saw he was going to be here on the 31st, I jumped at this opportunity to finally see him. What a phenomenal show! I find his talent fascinating to watch and the energy he exudes is amazing. Anyhow, I ended up having a wonderful evening, despite not being able to be with my friends.

I share this story with you because I think it's important to remind ourselves sometimes that life is full of disappointments. We can't always have things the way we want them, or when we want them, or even with whom we want them to be with. Sometimes we just get dealt the crappy hand. I decided to take advantage of my free night and spend it doing something that I knew would make me smile. And it did!

2011 is here now, and this new year once again brings some new opportunities to all of us.  Take it one day at a time, and never forget that there is no dress rehearsal in life. I'm going to try my best to make some pretty damn good lemonade with the lemons life hands me.

New challenges.
New beginnings.
New goals.
New heartaches.
New love.
New laughter. 
New you.

• Have no regrets. The tragedy and triumph is what 
   makes us who we are.
• Read one news item a day that you have no interest in. 
   You'll learn something new.
• Be playful. It will give you a renewed sense of energy.
• Maintain balance, but never give up your indulgences. 
   Practice everything in moderation.
• Surround yourself with positive, open-minded people.
• Laugh. Laugh hard and loud.
• You can't take care of anyone else, unless you first 
   take care of yourself.
• Ignore your telephone, your cable and your email one day a month.
• Money will not buy happiness. 
   Some of the best memories in life will not cost you a dime.
• 'Please' and 'thank you' will go a long way... a very long way.
• We all have shortcomings. Pick one and commit to self-improvement.
• Work hard but play harder, and don't forget to rest.
• Brush your teeth three times a day... and smile.
• Start your day with a good stretch, a glass of water and 
   some humorous talk radio.
• Challenge and move your body, every day.
• Want less, accept more, and give the most.
• Maintaining your identity is the key to happiness. 
   Don't ever let anyone rob you of that.
• Celebrate without reasons.
• Pray. To whom or what is irrelevant.
• Take a vacation, by yourself.
• There is no excuse to be bored.
• Pay someone a compliment, with no expectation of gratitude.
• Listen to your heart, it can take you on some of 
   the most unforgettable journeys.
• Forget the ex-flames, and look forward to a new one... 
   yes, it will happen.
• Say 'no' to jealousy, it can suck the life right out of you.
• Discuss ideas and concepts, not people.
• Try something new that scares the hell out of you.
• Cherish your health - never take it for granted.
• Relationships come and go, but nothing will ever separate 
   the bond of a close friend.
• Love, love and love some more.

Happy New Year!

Until next time... embrace the challenges in 2011, be lucky you're alive to do so.