I have been in more than my share of scrapes in 53 years, some I started, and others I finished. When I was 19 a severe electrical accident nearly killed me and I could not write for a year which knocked me out of college. On a less noble note I had more fights in the military when the liquid courage flowed than I care to remember, once getting beat on the head with a table leg in a full out brawl with some Marines in Boston that had me doing extra duty when I returned to the Coast Guard Air Station in Chicago after the Senior Chief got wind of my antics. I have been thrown out of bars and have thrown guys out of bars, once bending a biker dude backwards over a fire hydrant and it was only by intervention that kept him from being a permanent part of the pavement. Two weeks after my marriage in 1986 my then wife and I were hit broadside by a drunk driver and I was pinned in the wreck, narrowly surviving again. In my prime I could bench press 500 pounds and be it business or pleasure I never stood down from any man nor beast, holding my ground firmly to what I thought was right. By all accounts I have endured with crooked fingers, a knee that locks up a neck that constantly cracks and a nose that never gets enough air after being broken more times than I remember. My scarred hands hurt when its cold and my knees ache when its hot. Big deal.
If you look up the word “tough” in the dictionary however you will not see my picture there-you will see my daughter’s face.
Amanda Lee was born with a kidney defect that is common enough-reflux-which allow toxic urine to flow backwards into her bladder. Most kids grow out of this, Amanda did not. Right around her 2nd birthday the reflux was diagnosed, and the treatment was an ongoing bombardment of antibiotics and tests that created a lot of sleepless nights. Right before her fifth birthday surgery was planned for the reflux that was not correcting itself, a simple outpatient surgery that would fix the problem and give Amanda a normal life. I was on the phone in the kitchen in our little townhouse when the other line rang in. It was the doctor informing me that in addition to correcting the reflux, Amanda’s right kidney had to come out. It had grown toxic and was making her sick. In addition her left kidney had much less function and needed to be saved. Nothing prepares you for that news…no matter how tough you are.
The hours in the waiting room were agonizing for mom and dad. In the end the surgery went well and in no time Amanda rebounded. Check-ups and medication were still a part of the routine and everything went good for about eight years until the age of thirteen when her body began to change, and the little left kidney got tired of doing so much growth work. Beating the odds I turned out to be the best donor (both my dad and grandfather had kidney disease) and on July 18th, 2002 I prolonged my daughter’s life by donating a kidney to her.
That was nine years ago today.
In the 3,285 days that have passed since that morning at Children’s Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin I have watched the toughest person I know go thru tests, drugs, doctors and pain with nary a complaint. No questions of “why did this happen to me?” She is proud to show off the long scar that runs down the right flank of her body when the doctors took my really big kidney and put it in her small body. She has slowly become one with the organ that gave her a new life and I have not missed one day in nine years spending a least a few minutes in gratitude for the miracle. Amanda will soon be 23 and if she takes care of herself odds are that kidney will last the rest of her life.
There is a list that you are placed on when in need of an organ, upwards of 100,000 names are on that list waiting for a kidney or a heart or lungs. Every day people die waiting in line because for the most part we have not accepted our own mortality and the thought of becoming an organ donor means admitting that someday we will die. That list could be reduced greatly by simply signing a donor card in your state. Humans, greedy as we are seem to want to keep everything to ourselves even if we can’t use it anymore even our organs. Sorry to break the news to you-but none of us lives forever-but- we can live on in another by simply being tough enough to sign a donor card.
I did what any father would do and if I could grow kidney’s inside of me and hand them out as Christmas gifts every year I would. I remember the families in Madison that had been on the waiting list for years knowing that someone had to die in order for their son or daughter to live. More and more “angel donors” are popping up, people that are not related to the person in need but feel moved to give a part of themselves, be it a kidney or liver to help a stranger in some cases survive. Giving in such a way might just be the most Divine act any human gets to experience outside of the birth of children.
Life changes come in ordinary moments, when you least expect it and not prepared for it. The lessons that come with those changes are not something you can study for prior to the event, they are learned as a result of enduring through a change. I don’t see Amanda every day like I did when she was little. She has her own life now, working and in college, living six hours away and thriving. Those times when I do see her on my routine stops her eyes shine and her smile lights me up and I see a beautiful, talented and amazing young woman with a 53 year old kidney inside her helping her to live her dreams.
It’s been 3,285 days. Be an organ donor.