Every night as soon as I came home from work I conducted internet searches on the process of being a live donor until the small hours of the morning. I wondered what blood types Japanese people have and if a black woman would be compatible? I thought the doctors would laugh at me if l offered without our blood types matching. So I searched websites in as many languages as I could decipher (which did not include Japanese unfortunately) to work out blood types. To my relief I discovered that my blood type is relatively common in Japan. Naturally, I was curious about the process as well. The websites all made clear that the donor can revisit the decision to donate at every step of the process. This was a comfort but in my case unnecessary. My path was clear. I decided that changing my mind would be an unthinkable course of action in our case. If I offered I had to go through with it unless there were medical factors in the way. So first I had to be absolutely sure that I wanted to do it and could live with the consequences. Second, once I was sure I had to ask my husband if he would agree. We have two children and the plan was to raise them together. If he objected – that had to be final.
I read that the British National Health Service (NHS) puts the death statistics for live donors at 1 in 2500. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States where we were to have the transplant surgery, has similar statistics but goes on to point out that in general kidney donors have a longer than average life span. This is explained by the fact that donors tend to be much healthier than the average person. The vigorous testing regime is meant to ensure that the live donor is very healthy indeed. I was comforted by this information because once the decision is made it’s all about emotional reassurance.
Deciding that I wanted to offer was far easier than approaching George about the matter. He was under a lot of stress and it was not a good time to introduce complications in our personal life. He was being vetted for a new job in a new career which would involve a change of cities.
I decided to wait for a ”good moment” before asking him. In the meantime, I continued to educate myself. It was time well spent. I learned that the shortage of organs was a direct result of the introduction of seatbelts. Seatbelts reduced the incidence of fatal car accidents, which had been the number one source of available kidneys for transplant. I also learned that live donations give the recipient a much better kidney and therefore a longer lifespan than a kidney from someone who has died. I found that if your blood type does not match, it does not automatically rule out the operation. There must be a good cell match however. My high school biology courses also came flowing back as I remembered that a body will try to reject an alien organ. If it succeeds in doing so, the operation has failed and the recipient will need another kidney and of course the donor has lost a kidney without the desired result. Even if the body does not reject the kidney after the operation the recipient needs special suppressant medication to help keep the new organ from being rejected.
Once I completed my background information I began searching for sites featuring live donors. Most of the articles I read on transplants were directed at recipients. Even those for donors seemed to have as their whole purpose creating warm and fuzzy feelings rather than conveying useful information. In addition, the tone of some of the articles was too saccharine for me. They bore titles like “better than flowers” and “the greatest gift.” I suppose these are superior to something like “organ donation: try it!” but I found these titles difficult to relate to when the donor is not a family member. There are different emotions at work when the recipient is a friend and as a wife and mother with a fulltime job, I needed to know about the recovery period.
One area I did not anticipate for the live donor is the emotional arena. Donations can give rise to complex emotional states. I found that many donors enter into a transplant in the fervent hope that they can mend unsatisfactory relationships. There were several sad stories about sisters donating to estranged brothers or cousins donating to each other hoping that the shared experience and their generous act would create a bond only to find that their relative was ungrateful or that the bad relationship persisted. I also read in the newspapers, albeit after my operation of a man who left his wife who given her kidney to him. So apparently if you are donating an organ to someone you know, you should be sure that person is going to be grateful or do it for your own altruistic reasons. In fact, it would appear that one of the advantages of a friend or stranger as a recipient is a guarantee of gratitude. This is important because gratitude is a form of support and the donor definitely needs support in the recovery period.