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!!