I have known my friend Cheri since middle school — we’ve sustained our friendship for over a quarter of a century. Though never best friends, we have remained a constant in each other’s lives. From sitting together in the high school cafeteria and reconnecting at summer gatherings during our college years, to connecting through Friendster (yes, Friendster), MySpace, and eventually becoming Facebook friends as adults, she has always been there.
And she has always fought kidney disease.
A rare autoimmune disease, dense deposit disease (DDD), caused her immune system to progressively damage her kidneys beginning at the age of 8, when very little was known about the disease. She progressed to end-stage renal disease by age 20 and entered into a life of balancing dialysis with motherhood. In 2010, we all celebrated when she finally received a kidney donation from a deceased donor, only to lament just two years later when the kidney had to be removed due to rejection. She had to begin dialysis again. It has been determined that her best chance now is to receive a kidney from a living kidney donor so that she can receive pre-transplant treatment with medication to prevent rejection.
I have wanted to help Cheri all along her journey, but I’ve always resigned myself to a spectator seat. Why? Well, I am a mom of five. Meaning, I was pregnant when she first went on the transplant list. Pregnant again when she got the first transplant. Pregnant one more time when the kidney was removed. And pregnant again when she was on the transplant list for the second time. Sense a theme here?
This fall, though, tubes tied and no chance of being pregnant again, I decided it was time to do something.
I offered her one of my kidneys.
First, I let my family know what I was going to do. I explained to my kids that there was only a small chance I would actually be able to help, but if I could, I would do it for my friend without any hesitation. I wouldn’t be able to give her my own kidney because she needs a very specific match due to DDD, but we could potentially participate in a paired exchange. In a paired exchange, I would donate my kidney to someone else on the transplant list, who in turn would have a friend or family member donate to Cheri. This could potentially create a far longer list of pairs, resulting in a number of people being matched with kidney donors.
Countless phone conversations later, I had given my complete medical history to the transplant coordinator, gone through risk factors with the nephrologist and assured him I was willing to move forward, faxed blood pressure readings from every pregnancy (silently pitied the person who had to look at five pregnancies worth of readings), and was told… maybe. My history with preeclampsia could be a deterrent, or it may not be a factor because it never affected kidney function. The transplant team had met once to discuss me and would meet another time to discuss it further. They’d get back to me.
Just before Christmas, the letter came. A tear slipped down my cheek as I read the words, “history of high blood pressure developed during your pregnancies… does prevent you from being considered for kidney donation.”
That was it, I guess. I tried. I was disqualified.
“Mom, why are you crying?” my daughter asked.
Her face twisted in confusion when I explained I couldn’t be a donor. “But, you want to…”
Of course she is confused, I thought to myself. When you’re 7 and you want to help someone, you just do. It is a foreign concept to be told no when you are trying to do something good.
The voice of my 10-year-old chimed in. “You weren’t going to give her your kidney anyway, though, right? You were going to give it to someone else, and then it would create a chain of people helping people?”
A chain of people helping people.
It’s amazing the wisdom you can gain from a child, isn’t it?
My link in the chain isn’t broken. My link just isn’t a kidney.
I may not be able to help Cheri directly, but I can help her indirectly by helping others. By being a part of the bigger chain.
January is National Blood Donor Month. The perfect month to begin donating the gift of life. I have looked up my time and location, and I will be donating as often as I am able, starting on New Year’s Day. To find a blood donation location near you, please visit the American Red Cross.
Awareness saves lives.
To help Cheri directly, please like her Facebook page at Find a Kidney for Cheri Rodriguez or contact the living transplant coordinator at Baystate Medical Center at (413) 794-2321.
A friend recently let me know her father is also in need of a kidney transplant. Her history of preeclampsia prevents her from donating her own. To help this loving grandfather, please like his Facebook page at A Kidney For Dan or contact the living donor coordinator at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at [email protected]
There are kidneys out there waiting for Cheri and Dan. Awareness saves lives. The more people who spread the word about the need for kidney donation, the better the chance the message will get to the right person. Please spread the word.
Be a part of the chain.