Someone snapped a picture of a man’s truck and posted it on reddit. On the rear, it advertised the need for a kidney. The post was titled, “This guy needs some help… seen on the way to work today.”
I think my interest in kidney donation actually started with that Grey’s Anatomy episode where a bunch of people donate kidneys all at once. But it was always one of those things, you know, where your mind considers it for a brief moment, and then makes an excuse and promptly forgets?
This time, though, I saw that picture and … maybe it’s because I’m a married man now? It gave me pause. It made me wonder. What if that was my husband? What wouldn’t I do for the love of my life?
I really thought about it for a few minutes. And I realized: I could do this. I’m almost 34, and I’m not getting any younger. I have a great job at an amazing and supportive company, and I might not work there forever. I’m in pretty good health, and there are lots of people who aren’t.
There are so many ways in which we can’t help people in need. There is poverty, and racism, and war. There’s also illness; so much illness that can’t be cured.
But for one terrible sickness, there is a cure: A small, redundant piece of someone else.
Kidney disease, as I understand, is terrible. It’s an hourglass, and the sand is the time left on your life. That sand slips through the glass while you sit beside a quietly whirring machine as it cleans your blood. That sand slips through the glass while you’re waiting for a donor. And for most people who watch that sand, there’s no one coming to the rescue.
Saving someone’s life starts with a form
The National Kidney Registry has an amazing story. It goes like this: This guy’s kid needed a kidney. He couldn’t give her a kidney because his blood didn’t match the right way, and matching is the most important part of the process. But he’d give his kidney to someone else if it meant getting one for his daughter — and he had heard that was a thing people did. But why was it so hard to set up?
The system was fragmented, and finding paired matches was very difficult. But he knew there was a better way: What if they could aggregate all the donors, and all the people who needed kidneys, and use super complex math to match up people all over the country to find people who’d be willing to swap their kidneys with strangers, just to get one back for the people they love? And that’s how the National Kidney Registry was born.
The NKR has been a great success, with over 1,300 facilitated transplants. But they need more people. There are over 17,000 people waiting for a kidney in California alone.
So I filled out the form on the NKR website, just to get things started. Chances are, I thought, I’d never make the cut anyway — they say that the donation screening process is the most intensive health evaluation you’ll ever get, because they want to be sure that donating your kidney won’t harm you in any way.
It’s so much easier than you would think
My preliminary evaluation involved blood tests, a sugar tolerance test (fasting for 12 hours, and then drinking a Tang-like drink to see how my blood sugar responds), and the weird one: A really long urine test. They sent me a gallon-sized plastic medical container into which I deposited my urine for 24 hours. They were very clear that every drop had to make it in.
Everything came back clean and healthy. Cholesterol just a little high, a few pounds overweight, but those are things I can fix with exercise and diet. I even found out my blood type: O — universal donor!
But I still have a ways to go. Later this month I’m taking a day off from work to spend at the UCSF medical center, one of the best transplant hospitals in the world. While I’m there, I’ll have more blood drawn, get a chest x-ray, an EKG, and a CT scan of my kidneys. I’ll talk to a psychologist who will make sure I’m pretty sane, a social worker who will make sure I’m not being coerced into this, and the kidney doctors who will remove my kidney.
I’ve had blood tests before. I’ve peed in a cup before. So far, this is nothing but a little time.
I’m talking about this to raise awareness
Let’s get the silly stuff out of the way now:
- You can still drink alcohol if you donate a kidney.
- You can still eat salty foods if you donate a kidney.
- You can still play sports and live an active life if you donate a kidney.
- Donating a kidney doesn’t shorten your life.
- Donating a kidney does not require you to take special medications.
You will, like anyone, need to take care of yourself. Living a healthy lifestyle is something I struggle with, and I will need to get better at it. But donating does not require a significant, long-term change in the way you live.
My husband loves to craft. He worked at a craft store for a few years and learned all about stamping and die cuts and shading and all that stuff that crafters love to do. He watches crafting videos, and makes cards for every holiday, some of which he now sells at the bookstore he works at.
But if he were on dialysis, he’d spend a lot of time thinking about crafting, but not actually crafting. And I’d feel so powerless to help him; probably a lot like that guy who was driving around advertising the need for a kidney on the back of his truck.
My husband doesn’t need a kidney. But someone else’s husband, wife, son or daughter, mother or father? They do. They need a kidney to support their family, to cook the meals, to see their grandchildren graduate high school. They need a kidney to live more years with the ones they love, do the things they always said they’d do until they were diagnosed.
Can you imagine saving someone’s life?
If so, please consider donating. Just really think about it for a few minutes. You can always change your mind. “Excuses freely given,” like a medical excuse that isn’t true, to give you an out if you decide the decision is not the right one for you. And it only takes a few minutes to get started.
So why not start today? Just learn more about what it takes. Maybe fill out the form if you’re interested. You’re not committed to anything until the moment you count backwards from 10. Before you even get a drop of blood drawn, you’ll have lots of opportunities to talk to the good people who work at the hospital that would do your transplant. You can ask all the silly questions you want, and even ask to speak to people who’ve donated.
I’m a month into the process and I haven’t even finished qualifying. It hasn’t really been a lot of my time so far (a few hours completing forms, talking to the transplant nurses, and then a few hours getting my blood drawn and doing the sugar tolerance test). But I’m so grateful, because this process, and the time it takes, has allowed me to really understand what I’m doing. I’ve gone from being intrigued to being committed. I’ve read the donor stories and questioned why I’m doing this, and spoken to lots of people on the transplant team. Now I’m excited. Don’t get me wrong: This doesn’t sound easy, by any stretch of the imagination. But I know that someone’s life will change, and their family will be there to watch them recover, and it will be amazing for them. And that warms my heart, trying to imagine myself in their place, knowing that what they thought would never come finally happened, and because of that, their loved-one will live.
I can’t wait to tell you more!
I’ll be back again to talk about what my experience was like donating. I hope in the meantime you’ll consider this incredibly personal act of giving.
If you have questions, ask me on Twitter: @jordankrueger
You can also check out these sites, which I found really useful: