This is a question I’ve been asked many times over the past two years. It’s a question I’ve had to ask myself a few times too.
Since starting this journey, I’ve read many stories of people doing exactly what I’m about to do. I resonate with each of their reasons. Many of them don’t really have a solid reason why they chose this path and I resonate with this too. I’ve tried to explain to my family members, friends, a psychiatrist, and the transplant team but can’t really pinpoint where this urge comes from.
I can’t remember how old I was but I was at least 17 yrs old because I was able to drive on my own. Somehow I found out it was possible to volunteer to donate bone marrow to a stranger and it seemed like a cool opportunity to help someone in need. I decided to sign up. The process involved me driving to a clinic about 40 min away, getting my blood drawn and my cheek swabbed. I filled out a few forms and anxiously waited for a call. I told a few people and their response was, “I heard that donating bone marrow is painful!” I’m not sure I have the best pain tolerance but the thought of helping to save a life outweighed the thought of the pain I might experience for a short time so I kept the hope I would get a call. The call never came and after a few years I forgot about it.
From then until the moment I decided to donate I became a mom, went through a separation, dealt with anxiety, post-partum and seasonal depression, was diagnosed with endometriosis and fibromyalgia and tested for cardiovascular issues due to fainting spells and heart palpitations. I went through some traumatic emotional events that turned my world inside out and upside down. I spent the past six or seven years figuring out how to feel my best in this body and this mind. This has been crucial because I know I will need to tap into all of the resources I have been gathering over the years to help me heal and deal pre and post donation the best way I know how.
Since I got my licence and knew that being an organ donor at death was an option, I had signed my card, had registered online and let everyone know my wishes. I thought it was a guarantee that my organs would give life to someone in need. I felt satisfied and happy with the thought of something good coming out of my death. I signed up to donate my blood and tried a few times before being told that my being there was actually using too many resources because I would almost faint every time and they needed to abort mission or have more than one volunteer distract me during the withdrawal. I felt proud of the handful of times I was able to make it through to the end but felt sad that I couldn’t be a part of this amazing life giving service.
After working many years at the same facility in the same department I was starting to feel an itch to do something different with my life and my career. I started with taking an integrative nutrition course then experimented with building a website in hopes to one day start my own business as a health & wellness coach. My boss at the time asked me where I saw myself in fives years. This was a serious question during my serious performance appraisal meeting. My response, “not here”. I wasn’t being sarcastic or negative, I was being sincere. I told my boss I was getting ready to make a change, I saw myself in a career that was in service of others in a bigger way. I wasn’t quite sure what that looked like yet but something was burning inside me to make a change. A job opportunity fell into my inbox twice before I really noticed it and became interested. This job was for my provinces organ donation agency and it was a remote position! After a quick chat with the hubby, I cleaned up an old resume and applied. I figured if I got an interview I would move through the process and just see what happened. After a few weeks, I got the call for a phone interview. A week or so after that, I got the call for an in-person interview. A day or so after that, I got the job offer! It all happened so quickly but it seemed so right. I put a request out to the universe for something different and it answered.
I’m still with the agency and love the job and the people I work with. I get to work from home and have opportunities to travel to different hospitals across the province, allowing for new experiences and finding new places to eat (I love food!). Through this job I have learned quite a bit about organ donation. It has highlighted the low percentage of people who actually have the opportunity to become organ donors at death. I started to understand why there is such a long list of people on the waiting list for organs. This fact was shocking. In 2016, over 4500 canadians were waiting for organ transplants, a little over 2900 organs were transplanted, and 260 people died waiting. I always thought that by registering to donate my organs, it almost guaranteed one or more of my organs would help save a life. The number of deaths in 2016 here in Canada were 268,932. In most provinces, only about a third of the residents are registered to become organ donors so there is still so much room for growth. Just a quick glance at these numbers shocked me. I was becoming more interested and was starting to read stories in the news about recipients and their families and how amazing the gift of life truly can be. I read a few stories of people donating their kidneys to loved ones and even strangers. This got me thinking so I did a bit of research on becoming a living kidney donor.
I called my local transplant hospital to get more information, I joined a living kidney donor facebook group, I started asking for any and all spiritual guidance. It took about a year before I truly decided to sign up as a living kidney donor which involved lots of conversations with family and close friends. I’m writing this now only two weeks away from my surgery date and feel more sure about my decision now than ever before. The idea of starting a chain of potentially many recipients across Canada lights me up inside. I know there are risks to any surgery and I realize that it’s not impossible that someone in my lifetime who I am close to may need a kidney. I have read some negative and sometimes scary stories of what has happened with living kidney donors. Even after digging through those dark thoughts and moving through the what ifs, I still feel a strong pull to do this. What I am sure of is that I will be in some pain, I will be moving slower for a few weeks, I will be more aware of things that could potentially harm my remaining kidney, my family will have to step up and help out with chores, and some people I love will be worried about the outcome of my surgery. The thought that gets me through this is the discomfort and inconvenience I will experience for a short amount of time is absolutely worth knowing families will be able to celebrate a better quality of life with their loved ones for many years to come.
Choosing to become a living kidney donor is a major decision and should not be taken lightly. My main reason for sharing is to shed some light on the area of organ donation as a whole. We still have a long way to go before waitlists become shorter and less people have to spend their lives on dialysis machines or die waiting. The easiest way to help is to register to become a donor at death and tell your family members your wishes. Currently in Canada, your next of kin has the last say even if you have previously registered.
Want to know more about the Kidney Paired Donation Program: click here
Want to register your wishes to become an organ donor at death: click here