My Husband Gave One of His Kidneys to a Stranger

One day, about six months ago, my husband, Chris, came home and quietly told me that he wanted to donate one of his kidneys to help a stranger.

I was wary. I was selfish. I didn’t want the burden of caring for him during recovery. I didn’t want him to be in pain. I wasn’t convinced that his sacrifice was necessary.

Then he came home from his first screening appointment and I asked him, “So, about how long till the doctor thinks they’ll need your kidney? Six months? A year?”

And he said, “They have so many people on the wait list. There are people waiting right now that I’m a match with. They could use my kidney tomorrow.”

I felt like the earth was shaking beneath my feet. There were so many people waiting that they could have used Chris’s kidney right that minute.

In that moment I became Chris’s most ardent supporter.

So, in April my husband donated one of his kidneys to a stranger. The day of his surgery, we didn’t know the stranger’s name, age, or gender. All we knew was this stranger needed a kidney, desperately.

chris post surgery

This is Chris – One Day Post-Op

Chris’s donation started a chain of donations. Many people have a loved one who wants to donate to them when their kidneys fail. Unfortunately, many times that loved one isn’t a match to the person in need. However, if they’re willing to still donate to another person in need, their loved one gets a kidney faster. They link all these people in a chain. Then they get one person like my husband to start the chain. He’s called a non-directed donor, or an altruistic donor.

kidney chain

From the National Kidney Foundation

His kidney went to ill person #1, whose friend donated to ill person #2, whose mom donated to ill person #3, whose daughter donated to ill person #4.

Four kidneys, eight surgeries, two days.

Last week, after a month of recovery, all four donors and four recipients met for the first time.

kidney meet up

The meet-up was two hours.

I didn’t wear mascara.

And I spent the rest of the day with tears in my eyes, overwhelmed by emotion.

Joyful, toe and finger tingling joy for the recipients and donors.

Pride for Chris and his sacrifice. Watching him, standing there, linked forever with a group of people that his deep belief in Christian charity has knit together. Our oldest son sitting on my lap audibly gasping when the speaker announces that his daddy is now a hero twice. He was a hero already for serving our country in Iraq. Now he’s a hero for giving a kidney. Pride for my husband who truly is a hero.

Grateful. So very grateful that all these lives were gathered together to celebrate their journey into health. They can fully embrace each breath. They get to plan because they’ll be there for the future.

My joy, my pride, and my gratitude is tempered by humbleness now. My husband was declared the hero, the founder of the miracle, but all around us at the meet-up last week were stories of courage, determination, and faith.

Chris jumped in at the last minute, spent a couple of weeks feeling uncomfortable, and is back to his regular life. The stories of the kidney recipients involve years of ill health. These recipients have stood on the brink of death, wondering if it would take them before someone was able to help. Their families stood by them, helpless to prevent their suffering.

One recipient had been scheduled for his transplant when a last minute test showed the donor couldn’t donate after all.

Another recipient hasn’t been able to sell his home dialysis machine for fear that he’ll wake up and this new life, his new health, will all be a dream.

One of the recipients has suffered almost his entire life.

And I’ve been patting my back for doing such a great job caring for Chris – until I met the woman who cared for her husband (a recipient) and her daughter (a donor) at the same time.

Or the mom who traveled from half way around the world to care for her daughter (a recipient) and whose single-minded determination to save her daughter led her to extend her visa and donate one of her own kidneys. Anything to save her daughter. She doesn’t even speak English.

They’re all heroes.

family and recipient

Our family, with Chris’s new blood brother.

 

The need is great. I found out at the meet-up last week that there are six hundred people in Northern California that are on the wait list to be evaluated to get on the wait list for a kidney. Seriously – they’re on the wait list for the wait list. None of the recipients in Chris’s chain waited less than two years. And these are people who had someone who was willing to donate to them.

Living donation makes a real difference. Organs from live donors work faster, longer, and more reliably for recipients than the tissue of deceased donors. They work, on average, ten years longer than a kidney from a deceased donor. Ten years is a long time. The time to walk a daughter down the aisle. The time to hold the hand of a grandchild.

chris and david post surgery

Our oldest son helping Dad take a walk five days after surgery.

Donate. Support live donors. Recycle yourself.

To find out more about live donors and how you can become one:

Visit the National Kidney Registry

Or

Contact your local transplanting hospital. Find them using this search engine run by the US Department of Health & Human Services. Put “Transplant Centers By Organ” in the first box. “Living Kidney” in the second. Then search by your location.