Sunday, May 22, 2011

national kidney registry... thank you!

On the weekend of May 1, 2011, the 11th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Tranplant Surgeons and The American Society of Transplantation, met in Philadelphia, PA for the 2011 American Transplant Conference. The word 'American' is used way too many times in that sentence. The National Kidney Registry (NKR) was a participant. I can only assume that there is a tremendous amount of scientific and clinical information regarding solid organ and tissue transplantation exchanged and discussed among some of the top surgeons and scientists in the world. Yawn. As interesting as I'm sure the presentations were, I would imagine it would all sound Greek to me. I am intrigued (for the obvious reasons) by this area of study, but know I would last all of 5 minutes as an audience member.

NKR, specifically Diane Zocchia (my transplant coordinator), was kind enough to invite me to attend a reception at this event on the evening of May 2nd. I was thrilled at this opportunity to mingle with the rich and famous NKR Management Team and other transplant center medical staff, but even more excited when she told me that I would be meeting 10-12 living donors. Since my surgery, I have not yet met another altruistic donor and the thought of being able to share stories amongst other donors was very exciting to me. Diane told me I could bring a guest that was with me during my donation experience. Since Derek was knee deep in season, I chose my mom. What a trade-off, eh? Off we go in the Jetta - me, mom and Xanax, on our little roadtrip to Philly, adding a few days to make it a mini vacation. Wow.

Monday's agenda started with a small donor meeting in our hotel so we could all be introduced to each other. What a wonderful group of people, but then again I expected nothing less. Diane asked if we could attend a press conference at City Hall to help publicize the National Kidney Registry. Sure, why not. What we didn't know then is that we would all be asked to speak at the press conference. Thank God for the Xanax. Although I was terrified to speak in front a crowd full of cameras, it was a great experience and I was honored and proud to be there to represent NKR. State representative Robert W. Godshall of PA was in attendance as well to receive a Political Action Award for introducing ground breaking legislation in the Organ and Bone Marrow Act.

(L to R) Lynne Samson, director of the National Transplant Foundation, State Representative and bone marrow recipient Robert W. Godshall (R) Montgomery County Pennsylvania, Gary LeBlanc, director of education and outreach for the National Kidney Registry, Janele Guzik, donor from CA, Judith Pasquarella, donor from MI, Daryl Julich, donor from IA, Hope Preston, donor from NJ, Angela Stimpson from NY and Chris Pricco, COO for OptumHealth Care Solutions (Photo courtesy of AP).

That evening, NKR hosted the 3rd Annual Awards Reception, honoring the achievements of the American Transplant Community. All 11 of the altruistic donors were invited. What we didn't know until that day is that we were all being honored with the American Hero Award. Had I known, I would have upgraded my consignment shop ensemble for something that cost more than a meal deal at McDonald's. Oh, how I wished I had worn my cha-cha heels. I had the opportunity to meet my recipient's coordinator, out of the UCLA transplant center, and also chatted with my coordinator from Weill-Cornell.

Garet Hill, the Founder and President of NKR,  gave a beautiful speech that featured just one of the many success stories of transplants that NKR has facilitated.

Garet Hill (center), pictured here with eight of the donors.

Award presentations followed, recognizing individuals and organizations exhibiting an extraordinary commitment to saving and improving the lives of those suffering from kideny failure through paired exchange. I just plagerized that entirely from the program. Last but not least, all the donors were honored with the American Hero Award. Woo hoo! Check it out, it's actually aesthetically pleasing, unlike the slew of bowling trophies lining my mantle.

All 11 donors were presented with this award. 

I was so moved, and felt touched that the NKR recognized us for what I feel is not an achievement, but an opportunity. Not everyone is blessed with a clean bill of health that would allow them this experience. The National Kidney Registry was a significant factor in the seamless process of my donation experience. Diane's presence in my life before, during and after my donation made for a beautiful experience that isn't always the case with a lot of kidney donations. NKR is an informative, organized and passionate organization that has facilitated 276 transplants since the program started in 2008. I urge anyone that is considering being a donor to make their first step a visit online to their website and register.

Thank you, National Kidney Registry, for this beautiful award but more importantly, thank you for being there for me during my donation.

Until next time... The monsoon seems to be over and summer is just around the corner. Happy girl!