In 1995 my kidneys failed. I didn’t know it at the time, I just felt lousy with a lot of strange symptoms. In January 1996 I was finally diagnosed – “End Stage Renal Disease” they call it – and was told I’d need a transplant. Until then, though, I could be kept alive by hooking up to a dialysis machine. 3 days a week, 4-5 hours a day.
I went to St. Barnabas Medical Center to get on the transplant list. My wife, Debbie, and my parents went along. The waiting list was very long, the doctor said. Could be years. He asked if I had any relatives who might give me one of their kidneys. As I am an only child, I said, “No.” At which point my mother said, “I will!”
“Mom, don’t even think about it. Besides, they won’t consider anyone over age 50” (the protocol at the time). I thought that was the end of it, but Mom was very determined. At age 68 she was in excellent shape. She’s been active all her life: tennis, jogging, downhill skiing, hiking – even riding a motorcycle! The doctor noticed, and when she called him after the meeting – unbeknownst to me – he agreed to test her as a possible donor.
On June 12, 1996 we were wheeled into adjoining operating rooms. She at 7AM, me about an hour later. Soon after that I had my “new” 68-year-old kidney, and it was working fine. Just as it is today.
A transplant is not a cure, however, it’s a treatment. The treatment involves taking a fistful of medications every morning and night, and seeing my doctors regularly. It also involves monitoring my physical health, but somehow I neglected that part. Over the course of the next 16 years I gained nearly 120lbs. Apparently riding a desk is not very effective exercise. I was ashamed and knew I wasn’t being a good steward of this amazing gift my mother had given me. I started thinking about what I would say to her if my poor health should ever jeopardize her kidney. There are no words, though, and no excuses, because it is completely in my control. Failure is all on me. As is success.