Friday, April 4, 2014

If Not Me, Then Who?

When I first decided to donate a kidney I didn’t talk about it much because I felt uncomfortable when people would gush about what a great thing I was planning to do. If I needed time off for example, I’d just say it was for some general tests or that I was having elective surgery. But eventually I realized if I didn’t talk about it, how would I ever begin to challenge others to consider living donation? Now, instead of changing the subject I just thank people as graciously as possible and ask if they’ve signed up to be a donor on their driver’s licenses. If they say no, I refer them to Donate Life to register as an organ donor when they die. If they’re curious about living donation I send them to the National Kidney Registry or Living Kidney Donors Network.

If you’re considering the idea of becoming a living donor I encourage you to contact the nearest transplant facility and offer to be tested. The hospital will give you a good idea of what to expect as well as being able to make sure that you wouldn’t be compromising your own health. You can find a list of transplant centers and tons of information about the donation process at the above websites. Facebook also offers several forums where living donors answer questions from those interested in the process, including financial resources, emotional support, and post-op recovery.

Not only did I become more vocal about becoming a living donor, I offered to allow a documentary filmmaker to follow my journey, recording everything from driving lessons with my son, to doing massage, to filming the actual surgery.Sharing such an intimate part of my life was a surreal experience but director Jan Krawitz made it seem effortless and I often forgot her crew was even in the room.  Perfect Strangers is currently making the festival circuit and is now available for private or community screenings (contact me for more info).

Like many other mid-lifers on the verge of an empty nest, I’d decided to go back to school to reignite sluggish synapses and broaden my knowledge base. I don’t think any of us roll out of bed, slug back a cup of coffee, and suddenly decide this is the day we’re going to dangle our ordinary little life by its ankles. I never dreamed that meeting a particular student in a gender studies class would teach me more than I could ever hope to learn in a book or a lecture, or change my life in such a powerful way.

Organ donation might seem like a big deal to a lot of people but every day I come across others who are doing or have done things I could never do. People who’ve adopted a special needs child, for example. People who commit their lives to aiding homeless refugees or teaching impoverished folks in inner cities. Sometimes just getting up in the morning on those days you barely feel human and doing whatever it takes to feed the kids and get them off to school requires an act of valor. Heroism is merely love in action.

And in the end, love really is everything…