Recently I celebrated the five-year anniversary of when I donated a kidney to an unknown (at the time) recipient. Over those five years I've learned a lot, both about myself and the world at large, in relation to what it means to be a living donor. As I reflect upon my experience and all the experiences born of that life-changing decision, I want to share the insights that surprised me the most or affected me the most profoundly.
- What you give to one person, you give to the world. No experience, large or small, occurs in a vacuum. What I mean by that is we often think of our actions as being fairly benign or having a limited effect on others but our actions, good or bad, have a ripple effect. When you put goodness out into the world it creates a wave that spreads beyond the realm of one's perception. Through each act of kindness you become a beautiful pebble in the center of that magnificent ripple and your generosity will overlap other lives in ways you can't imagine. From the beginning, I knew organ donation would help improve the quality of someone's life but I had no clue how many people--spouses, children, siblings, co-workers, friends--would also be directly affected by their person (and others involved in the kidney transplant chain) receiving a healthy kidney. I probably never will.
- Donating a kidney gave me a greater sense of purpose in my life but it wasn't the purpose. Not to minimize the act of organ donation, but helping to spread the word about the tragic lack of donors is what I consider my greater contribution. Many people confuse passion with purpose, but our passions don’t define us; passions are merely a vehicle to deliver one's purpose. Our purpose is to be of service, to make a positive contribution to the world, and to bring joy to and/or reduce suffering in the lives of others. Obviously donating a kidney reduced suffering but I believe the underlying purpose was educating people about the need for organs and inspiring others to consider donation (or other acts of kindness).
- Living Donors are happier. I've met hundreds of compassionate donors in the last five years and if I had to choose one word to describe them it would be happy. As moderator of a Facebook support group for donors and potential donors, I'm continually blown away by the inherent joy emanating from each one of them. I know from my own experience there's a euphoria that accompanies the act of living donation which is difficult to explain without sounding a little crazy. I can only liken this heightened sense of peace to the bliss many woman feel after the birth of a child. It just is.
- Having one kidney has had very little effect on my life. I often forget that I only have one kidney because it's pretty much like my life with two kidneys. When you remove a kidney from a healthy individual the remaining kidney grows in mass and increases its function. I don't take any medications or special precautions other than avoiding NSAIDS (Ibuprofen, Advil, etc.) because they're known to have an adverse affect on kidney health but I would avoid those drugs even if I still had two kidneys. I've maintained a very active life as a massage therapist who enjoys hiking and tennis and dancing a jig when so moved. That is not to say that donors never experience complications because a small percentage do and my heart goes out to them. I always recommend potential donors do plenty of research about the possible risks and due diligence when it comes to their transplant center/team. That said, if anything I am in better shape than before I donated; happy, healthy and strong.
- Being a Living Donor doesn't define me. I will likely always accept invitations to speak to groups about organ donation (and kindness in general) but my life continues to blossom in many delicious directions. I have only recently become a living donor but I have always been a writer. I enjoyed writing and sharing my memoir Lost in Transplantation and I'm excited about my next book, a coming-of-age novel set in the Midwest during the 60's cultural revolution. In the meantime I hope to post more regularly here on my blog. I'd love it if you'd leave a comment if any of the above speaks to you personally or just to say hi.