‘I’m in kidney failure.’ He needed dialysis 4 hours a day, 3 days a week to keep him alive. I felt a tug at my heart.’: Woman enters ‘humbling’ kidney donation program for friend

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“Do you ever have those moments that seem so simple and inconsequential at the time, but they turn out to be one of the most pivotal moments of your life? I met Sonny through a mutual friend while tailgating at a Jason Aldean concert in 2012. Sonny is always the life of the party and easily makes a new friend wherever he goes. He is friendly and outgoing and always wants everyone to have a good time. Sonny and I developed an instant friendship that night that went far beyond the surface level of two people enjoying a summer night in a parking lot. While everyone was drinking and having a great time, I remember having a deep conversation with Sonny.

Woman and man taking picture at concert holding cups
Courtesy of Sarah D.

He shared with me he developed his positive outlook on life because of his struggles with kidney disease that required him to need two prior kidney transplants. As a nurse who worked in the emergency room, I knew just how badly patients with kidney disease suffered and could feel his pain in the way he shared his story with me. We lost touch after that night until I found myself living back in the area a few years later and we reconnected. Although he was the same outgoing guy on the outside, I could tell there was something different about him.

As I said, we had an instant connection that is kind of unexplainable. He told me he found himself yet again in kidney failure. He needed dialysis for 4 hours a day, 3 days a week to keep him alive while he waited to have a third kidney transplant. We did not lose touch after this meeting and we began to have our deep life conversations almost daily. Sonny and I would talk at 5:30 a.m. while I was driving to work and he was driving to dialysis.

Man and woman wearing formal attire taking picture smiling
Courtesy of Sarah D.

It was at this time I felt a tug on my heart to donate my kidney. I went back and forth for a few months with my decision. I searched for other kidney donors to ask them about their experience with donation. I wanted to know firsthand how their lives were affected by their donations. None of them regretted it. In fact, most shared they would do it again if they could. I would decide I was going to donate and then allow others to talk me out of this choice. There are so many ‘what-ifs,’ and I can understand those closest to me were fearful of them because they loved me.

Man and woman looking at lobster
Courtesy of Sarah D.

I distinctly remember driving alone in my car one day and realizing this was what God was calling me to do. He repeatedly placed this desire to donate my kidney on my heart for a reason, and I needed to lean in and listen to it. So I made the decision to start the evaluation process. I decided to share with Sonny I was being evaluated because we talked so frequently and I would have felt disingenuous to leave this huge piece of my life out of those conversations. I filled out a brief medical survey and was contacted by a member of the transplant team.

Group of people taking smiling selfie
Courtesy of Sarah D.

They were very candid from the beginning that I would not be a direct match for Sonny given this was his third transplant and he was difficult to match. They informed me about paired donation, in which they would pair Sonny and me with another donor/recipient duo who did not match one another but who did match us. I would give my kidney to a stranger and by doing so Sonny would receive a kidney from a stranger.

I decided to move forward. I went through months of rigorous medical evaluations. There were multiple blood draws (one time they collected 20+ vials of blood), 24-hour urine collections, CT scans, and some very hard conversations with a social worker.

Man and woman in masks
Courtesy of Sarah D.

The process was emotionally taxing at times because with every new test there was the fear the team would find something wrong with me and/or I wouldn’t be able to donate. In June 2019, I was finally cleared to donate and Sonny and I entered the paired/exchange program to find our matches. Our estimated wait time kept getting pushed back and it was extremely frustrating. It was around this time the love of my life came back and I felt so supported and knew in my heart it was time to donate. In September, I opted to do an advanced donation. It was a risk.

Woman in hospital gown taking selfie
Courtesy of Sarah D.

What if I donated my kidney to a complete stranger and they could never find a match for Sonny? What if I donated in advance and something happened to him, never giving him the opportunity to receive another kidney? Was I leaving him behind? Ultimately, I felt the risk was worth it if it meant giving Sonny a chance. It was an added bonus I would be helping others in the process. On October 2nd, 2019, I became the patient instead of the nurse. I could feel the anxiety of those around me, but I felt so oddly at peace. I knew I was going to be okay.

My kidney flew from Boston, Massachusetts to Atlanta, Georgia, and kicked off a chain that allowed a few people to get a kidney that day. I don’t know much about my recipient other than their gender, age, and location. Do they have a family? What are they passionate about? Did they acquire the taste for white wine I lost after my surgery? There are so many questions I’ll never know the answer to, but it’s okay because I didn’t donate for that person. I donated for Sonny. Despite this, I pray every day they are living a happy healthy life.

Woman in hospital bed sitting with man
Courtesy of Sarah D.

Recovering from kidney donation was challenging and humbling. I was the person who took care of others, not the person who needed to be taken care of. Every time I pushed my body a little too far, it would remind me to slow down. My partner and I became closer than ever. I was at my most vulnerable and he was there to help me through it all. In being forced to slow down, I learned to appreciate the simpler things in life. I am a better person and a much more compassionate nurse from the experience.

Woman's stomach after kidney surgery
Courtesy of Sarah D.

Some of the toughest moments were exacerbated by anxiety for Sonny. But finally, on March 4th, 2020, Sonny got his kidney and just in time. It was a few days before Boston hospitals stopped performing elective surgeries and allowing visitors as a result of the pandemic. He was also part of a chain and others received kidneys that day. It has been so inspiring watching him go from struggling to get out of bed some days to now being able to travel, work out every day, and inspire others.

Man in hospital bed with woman smiling
Courtesy of Sarah D.

It all comes down to one night in the parking lot of a country concert. What would have happened if we had never met? How many lives would have had a different outcome? Meeting Sonny completely changed the entire trajectory of my life. My hope is others will listen to the little voice in their heads telling them to step out of their comfort zones, because you never what the impact of doing so will be.”

Man and woman with arms around each other taking picture at the beach
Courtesy of Sarah D.

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sarah D. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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