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I Gave My Dad a Kidney to Save His Life

 

On my father's 69th birthday, he collapsed at home and was rushed to the hospital. His kidneys were failing—a diagnosis he had known about for years but hadn't told us. My dad has always been an extremely private person—he was probably in a bit of denial too—and it pained me to learn that he had been silently struggling for so long. That day, he started dialysis—a procedure he would need to continue for the rest of his life in order to stay alive.

The doctors suggested that he get on the kidney transplant list, but for my two sisters and me it was a no-brainer: one of us would donate a kidney. By process of elimination, I was the one who would do it. My sister Michelle has no children and the procedure could affect her future fertility, and Kathy has two young girls. My son Justin was 18 and grown, so I was the best option. Luckily, after undergoing a few blood tests, I was deemed a match.

I can honestly say I had no hesitation about donating. I tell people that if they had the opportunity to save their dad, then they would do it too. I was also blind to the severity of the surgery. I'm the type of person that spends hours researching every vacation and every restaurant, but I never googled kidney transplant—the risks, consequences, etc.—to know what to expect. Doctors meetings and counseling were mandatory pre-surgery, and I was told the risks—infection, bleeding, and, in extremely rare cases, death. But I didn't focus on that. I was going to do this to help my dad, and nothing could stop me. 

Before the procedure, the doctors suggested that we both lose weight, since being at a healthy BMI makes the surgery less risky for both donor and recipient. He gave us three months to get there. And let me tell you, when your life depends on losing weight, there's no motivation quite like it! I ran every day and my husband Dave and I rode bikes and played tennis. Dave used to joke that he'd have to "trick" me into exercising because I hated it—not anymore!

One morning, we were staying at my parents' house, and I was on the treadmill in their basement. My dad came downstairs, and I burst into tears mid-stride. Seeing him as my feet pounded down on the belt made it hit home for me: His life—his ability to be here with his children and grandchildren—was the reason why I was running. Nothing else mattered.

Three months later, I was down 30 pounds and my dad had lost 40. And on November 5, 2013, we both went under the knife. The last thing I remember was being wheeled into the room while my mom and husband hugged and prayed. They put the mask on me, and in seconds I was under.

Admittedly, the surgery was rougher than I anticipated—it was a two-hour laparoscopic procedure that put me out of commission for three weeks. But overall, it was a major success! My dad's body adjusted better that the doctor had anticipated, and he is now in good health. My two nieces named our kidneys Kimye the karate kidney (my dad's) and Larry the leftover (mine), and they made us t-shirts that we wore to the National Kidney Foundation Annual 5K Walk that we've done together for the past two years.

Now, my parents and I are closer than ever. I like to think that donating my kidney made up for all my years of being a rebellious teenager, and I know how much they appreciate my sacrifice. And I love using the one-kidney excuse any time I don't want to do something. Oh, you need help washing the dishes? Take it easy on me—I only have one kidney!

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