Monday, July 19, 2010

Perfect Match

People: “Can you get a kidney from one of your family members?”

Jake: “Yes, my brother is a perfect match, however I want a kidney AND a pancreas so I need to wait until I can get them from the same donor. (You need your pancreas to live.)”

People: “What does a pancreas do?”

Jake: “It produces insulin. With a new working pancreas, I will no longer be diabetic, which will extend the life of my new kidney.”

I can’t really understand what not being diabetic means. For as long as I can remember, I’ve lived in a world of insulin shots, blood sugar tests, insulin pumps and sugar-free soda. It will be nice to let go of it all, but it’s difficult to perceive how it will feel.

Pretty good, I bet.

After I completed most of my pre-transplant work up, I sent out two text messages. The first went to a good friend of mine named Kenny, the second went to my half-brother James.

Txt messages: “I just found out my blood type is ‘O.’ We’re not a match, but thank you for the offer of your kidney.”

I knew Kenny and James had different blood types, and while they were both serious about giving up an organ, our blood types are incompatible.

Then I called my brother Rob.

Jake: “Dude, I just found out my blood type!”

Rob: “What is it?”

Jake: “’O.’ Do you know what yours is?”

Rob: “Nope.”

Jake: “Well, bro… if you are serious about giving me a kidney, I have some information for you.”

Rob: “You gotta let me do this, Jake. Let me give you a kidney.”

I didn’t expect him to be so excited. I imagine most people wouldn’t be so thrilled to have a living organ removed, but perhaps I’m wrong. Or maybe Rob believed the joke would last a lifetime: “You know you want my organ permanently inside of you!” Classy.

I’ll admit, when I told him to go into the transplant center at the IMC to get some tests done, I wasn’t aware of the magnitude of what I was asking. I was thinking of the jokes and how funny it would be if he really gave me his kidney.

And then, a few days later, that all changed.

Rob: “I just got the results, Jakey. I am a PERFECT MATCH!!”

Jake: “No way!”

Rob: “Yeah, dude. A PERFECT MATCH. When do you want to do this?”

Jake: “I don’t know. Let me talk to Stephanie and see what the next step is.”

Rob: “OK, bro. I am excited to do this!”

I’ll never forget hanging up my cell phone. I was alone in the house. I just sort of stopped for a minute and felt like I was going to crumble. All at once, the significance of what Rob was offering hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt grateful, unworthy, loved, and sadness all at the same time. I was overjoyed that Rob and I share matching blood types, but I didn’t want him to go through the surgery and live the rest of his life with only one kidney.

I called Stephanie and talked with her about what to do next. During the conversation, I asked if Rob and I should do our surgery first and then wait a few months before I get a pancreas from a cadaver… That’s when she explained how it’s done.

Typically, unless I have major health concerns, the goal is to get a matching kidney and pancreas from the same person. That way, I am only fighting off one set of antibodies instead of two. Once I got my head around the idea, I made the decision to wait for both organs from the same cadaver.

How was I going to explain this to Rob?

I wanted to tell him in person so I called his cell and asked if he could go to lunch with me the next day. He knew something was up and he hounded me to tell him right then and there so I did. It was the worst thing I ever had to tell anyone.

Picture it- your sibling is genuinely excited to give you one of his organs. This isn’t some store-bought present wrapped in a decorated box on Christmas. This is the selfless gift of life. Imagine how that would feel. Now imagine turning the gift down.

I explained to my brother the reasons why I couldn’t take his kidney, and although I know he understood, I also know he was disappointed.

Jake: “You’re not off the hook yet. You are still my backup plan. And seventeen years down the road, I might ask you for your kidney again. Then you can have your joke back.”

Rob: “Whatever you need, Jake. Just tell me how I can be there for you and I’ll do it.”

Jake: “Thanks, Rob.”

One important aspect of kidney failure is the ability to experience people genuinely caring for each other. Both of my brothers would give me their kidney without a second thought. Kenny, who isn’t even related to me, would gladly do the same. Christiana wanted me to have hers, and even my ex-wife Erin was ready to donate. I’m not sure how I got to know some of the greatest human beings on the face of the earth, but I sure am glad I do.

Thank you, guys! I love you.

To register yourself as an organ donor in the United States, click here.

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