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The Gift of Life A Family Bond

My name is Amy. I am a living kidney donor for my brother. My brother suffered from kidney stones all his life. One afternoon when he was 34 years old, we had all gone out and he said he didn’t feel well, perhaps it was the flu. This lasted a month and only got worse.

Finally, after bringing him some Gatorade and seeing he was ash in color, and short of breath, I told him I was taking him to the ER. “If you have the flu,” I told him. “You’ll need an IV from all the vomiting” We arrived at the ER around 4:30 pm and by 6:00 the doctors knew something was seriously wrong. “Call your parents.” they told us. Two hours later they were discussing emergency dialysis. Justin’s Creatinine was 26 times higher than normal.

My brother spent two weeks in the hospital doing emergency dialysis just to keep him alive. We knew nothing about kidneys and kidney disease. What causes it? Do kidneys regenerate? What does dialysis do? When the nephrologist came in to tell us Justin needed to immediately go on the transplant list, we all stared at him like he just told us he was indeed an alien. I was standing over my brother’s hospital bed at the time. I remember looking up at the lights because if I kept my eyes up, the tears would not fall down. Justin’s kidneys were completely shriveled due to constant kidney stones and undetected high blood pressure. It was the perfect storm. As he was telling us all of this, something came into my head. I’ll just give him one of my kidneys, and everything will be fine. I went right downstairs to get my blood type on file (I had given birth four years prior to this, in the same hospital).

Every single test I took to see if I was a match was done with zero stress. I KNEW I was a match. My kidney would be the perfect kidney for him, and then everything would go back to normal. This was our new normal. Peritoneal dialysis nightly, testing, educating ourselves on transplants. (The first time I heard that a transplant had a shelf life, I nearly fell over. What do you mean, it doesn’t last forever?!) On top of all of this, I was raising a young child who had no idea what was going on. I would try to draw him photos of me with 2 kidneys, Uncle Justin with none, so I’d share (sharing was big in preschool). I was in fact terrified but I never let anyone know.  So many what ifs...

The day of the transplant was oddly calm. I honestly don’t even remember going into the operating room. Waking up post-surgery, the hospital stay, and going home was painful. I couldn’t lay in bed, but I was exhausted. I didn’t want to eat. My extended family took turns helping out from out of state. It was all a lot. Plus, I had this little person wanting me to be a mom and I couldn’t even lift him and hug him.

Over the next week of being home, things got progressively better. On day nine, my cousin came from New York with her four-year-old to care for me. We went to the mall, lunch, and Build-a-Bear with the boys. Even though I was beyond exhausted, I was determined to stay out all day. 

Donating is not easy, mentally or physically. At times I still feel like “I can’t believe I did that”.  Other times I think it’s no big deal. My brother needed a kidney, I had two; simple math. I don’t get any special treatment in life because I donated. Nothing has changed. On our one-year kidney anniversary, my brother wrote a thank you letter to everyone who stood by him during this time. He thanked me, by saying “my sister put her life on pause, so I could unpause mine”. This statement impacted me. I didn’t realize I actually paused my life, but I did, to give him his life back. To anyone who is considering donating: It’s a powerful thing you can do to help another human get their independence back in life. I’m a better and stronger person for what I did. Nothing in my life has changed. I feel better than ever, and my brother is alive, and that’s all that matters.

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