Part 1: Organ Transplant – It Takes Two

I never thought that I could ever give away an organ. I don’t even have an organ donation card. But when I found out that one of my oldest friends needed help that is exactly what I did. While I was looking for stories  — any stories — about living donation they were not easy to find and those that were on the internet tended to skim over subjects like recovery.

When I was researching I wanted as much detail as possible so own donation story is longer than the ones I managed to find back in 2004.  In our case we live in different countries, I had young children and we are different racial groups as well.  Most stories naturally involved family members as well but donation is so personal that I really did want to read stories of donations between strangers or between friends.  If you are thinking about donating to a non family member the decision itself is  complicated and what and  how to tell family and other friends are important.  I hope you find what you need somewhere in my donation story which I have divided into 9 parts for convenience.

My recipient and I are very different. We are different nationalities, ethnicities and genders. I met Taro many years ago in the college cafeteria. My friends and I were looking for a table and I saw Taro sitting by himself looking very much like the shy Japanese foreign student he was. I asked if we could join him. He smiled and said yes. There were friendly introductions all around and our friendship began. Taro it emerged was older than I was at 19. A lifelong kidney disorder had interfered with his education. At the time it seemed a shame that his education had been delayed. Now we both know that it was providence. Despite living in different countries we remained good friends, always getting together when one of us breezed into town. In 2004 he came to London and we decided to have dinner. Because of our travel schedules I had not seen Taro for nearly two years. His appearance was distressing. He looked thin and wan and there was an ever so slight grayish tinge to his complexion.  We spoke about work and our families and then the subject moved to eventual retirement. Where did we think we would retire and what projects would we engage in? The next words he uttered changed my life forever. He said ‘if I am still alive in five years!’ I never caught the end of the sentence. I was stunned. He had not spoken about his kidney condition since college so I had no idea it had come to this.

He now explained that his kidneys had failed, that he was on dialysis, that it was only a matter of time. Despite being on donor lists in the US and Japan he was not counting on them  His whole manner was relaxed and matter of fact. He might have been talking about his travel schedule or some detail of a meeting. Now I was more than stunned. I was in inner turmoil. I realised that he had not spoken of it before because he had reconciled himself to dying sooner rather than later. We moved on to other conversation topics but the explosion happening to my emotions continued because the very moment he said he was looking for a donor I knew that I should offer. By the time we left the restaurant I was determined to do so.  I remembered my squeamishness when my husband told me about his organ donor card. When I got home I  flew onto the internet searching kidney diseases and transplants until my husband George came home. When I heard the key in the door I rapidly switched to computer solitaire. It was a pattern I followed for weeks to come.

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