“I am a simple guy. I live a relatively ordinary life. But recently, I was given the opportunity to do something extraordinary.
The day I found out my mom was sick was like any other. On a normal morning two years ago, I had my coffee, went to work, ate dinner, and laid down for bed with my then-girlfriend. Things took a dramatic turn for the worse when my phone started to ring. It was my grandmother, and it was a strange time of day for her to be making calls. She said that my mother was in the hospital… My heart raced as I thought of all the things that could be wrong. My grandmother proceeded to tell me that my mother hadn’t been feeling well for about a week, so they had taken her to the walk-in clinic. What we found out over the days to come would offer me so many sleepless nights.
After spending time in three different hospitals, doctors were able to determine that my mother’s kidneys were failing. She was diagnosed with Goodpasture syndrome (GPS) — an autoimmune disease that attacks the kidneys and lungs. GPS can take weeks or even years to run its course. The disease can often be treated with drugs or plasmapheresis, which removes the harmful antibodies from the blood. Kidney failure is common with Goodpasture syndrome, but less than 30% of patients need long-term dialysis. An even smaller number of people require a kidney transplant. My mom was one of the latter, and was set to be put on the national transplant list.
My mom is the type of person who can always make you smile. She is selfless and carefree, and is guaranteed to greet you at the door with a hug (and probably a basket full of goodies). Not to mention, she really knows how to pick a good horror movie. Some of my favorite childhood memories include camping, blueberry picking, and Jason Voorhees. I look up to my mom. It is through her that I learned how to put the needs of others before my own.
There was never a moment of doubt as to whether or not I would be my mother’s donor. During the preliminary blood tests, I was a direct match for my mom. However, during a second round of testing, we found out that our blood did not ‘play well together.’ Initially, I was devastated. I have known of several people who sat on the transplant list for three, four, or even five years before finding a match. Watching my mother suffer was a feeling that cannot be put into words. She started to lose her hair, she was always cold and bundled up in sweaters and blankets and fuzzy socks, and she rocked back and forth on her knees for hours on end to get through the leg pains caused by her medications. In the winter of 2016, I was presented with another chance to help my mom through a paired kidney donation.
During a paired kidney donation, the donor and recipient are not a direct match, so they are cross-matched with another donor/recipient pair on the transplant list. Basically, I would give my kidney to a stranger, and my mother would receive a kidney from a stranger. I did some research and found out that this process could actually set a chain of events into action and end up saving several lives. I, of course, jumped at the opportunity.
In January of 2017, I made my first trip to the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor (about 420 miles from my hometown), to go through extensive testing to find out if I was an eligible donor. If I’m being honest, the worst part of all of it was the fasting. By the second day, I couldn’t wait for a cup of coffee.
The appointment confirmed that I was young enough, healthy enough, and of sound (enough) mind to be a candidate for a living paired kidney donation. And so the search began. We were informed that most pairs find their match within the year. So when my transplant coordinator, Chad, reached out with a potential match just a few months later, I was ecstatic. In fact, it was a total of four sets of donors/recipients that all matched up in some way.
After going through a series of blood tests, one of the sets did not totally match up, and the operation fell through. I was, once again, devastated.
My mother’s overall health continued to decline. She was tired and scared. Sometimes, it felt as though she was only half there. But she continued to fight. She kept her hope alive, so I kept hoping.
And then, it happened. In February of 2018, I received a call from Chad, who informed me that another group of four sets had been discovered. Again, we went through the motions of the testing and the waiting, the testing and the waiting. This time, however, everyone was a match! On February 26th, we had a final pre-operative appointment in Ann Arbor. We did another round of blood tests, and I met with the surgery team. Both my mother and I were still healthy enough for the operation, so surgery dates were set for March — my mom would receive her kidney the day before I donated mine.
On March 20 at about 1:30 p.m., we headed into the U of M hospital. At 1:45 p.m., my mother checked in for surgery. She was taken back to the pre-op unit within minutes of our arrival. After an hour or so, I was able go back and see her once more before surgery. I was afraid of the unknown, but also confident as she was in the hands of some of the best surgeons in the country. We talked for a while, even joked around a bit. It was like nothing was different. Like she wasn’t about to have major, life-altering surgery. I then kissed my mother on the cheek and wished her good luck. Just two hours later, we were informed that the surgery was a success, and the new kidney began producing urine right away.
With a weight lifted off my shoulders, I headed back to my hotel to catch a few hours of sleep. Morning came faster than I could have ever imagined. I was tired, but more awake than I had ever been. We arrived for check-in at 5:30 a.m. I couldn’t believe that it was really happening. In the weeks leading up to surgery, it seemed like I was just going through the motions. I stopped drinking beer and soda, I got on my treadmill every day, and I did everything in my power to stay healthy (this got a little crazy at times). While lying on the hospital bed waiting for the surgery team, I was both nervous and excited. Mostly, I was concerned with what was going to happen after surgery.
The operation lasted approximately two and half hours, and everything had gone as well as expected.
I was sent to recovery, and after a few hours, I was wheeled up to my room. As soon as I could get out of bed, I wanted to walk to see my mom. We had rooms just a short way down the hall from each other, and when I finally saw her, I was overwhelmed with relief and happiness. I left the hospital on Thursday, and mom left on Friday. The morning of my release, she was finally strong enough to make it to my room. She hovered over my bed and embraced me in a loving ‘mom’ hug. She called me her hero.
How do you respond to that? I don’t feel like a hero. I’m just a simple guy who lives a relatively ordinary life.”
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