Six years ago, my older brother's kidneys failed. This wasn't the first time. When Matt was a teenager, my dad donated a kidney to him. But "foreign" kidneys only last so long. Because my brother ultimately rejected my dad's kidney, that meant at least half of my siblings (ten in total) wouldn't be able to donate to him this time around; they had the same antigen as my dad that Matt's body would also reject.
I wanted more than anything to donate my kidney to my brother, and so I got tested and--hallelujah--I was a perfect match! With blood and tissue type, we were like twins. I kept advancing through the succeeding tests (there are a bazillion) to make sure everything was inline to donate. Matt and I started planning possible surgery dates and dreaming of a life for him with no more dialysis. Then one day the nurse coordinator called me and said the surgeons ruled me out for donation. Here's why: I had all these extra forking arteries coming out of my kidneys. They couldn't be spliced into Matt's "plumbing system" because they were too tiny. I tried coming up with any exception (my dad also had extra arteries when he donated years ago), but nothing I said mattered. The answer was no. I couldn't donate to Matt.
I was so confused, so torn-up inside. I knew I was supposed to do this. I've never cried so hard in my life. I locked myself in a room and sobbed and wailed through a whole box of tissues AND my sleeves AND all my children's blankets. All I wanted to do was help my brother and I couldn't.
To make matters worse, my brother turned down a kidney from a girl who died in a car accident just the day before the surgeons told me NO. Matt could have had a kidney, but he was waiting for mine--the "perfect match." I felt horrible.
For the next three years Matt's health declined. While dealing with the continued drudgery of dialysis, he contracted a life-threatening case of West Nile Virus, which gave him seizures that sent him to the emergency room often. Several times he almost died. On top of that, cancer was discovered on his failing kidney, and it had to be completely removed. And there were still no matching donors. The rest of my siblings tried and were ruled out, along with several friends and acquaintances. Some had the antigens he'd reject. Some weren't in good enough health. Matt began to despair. He said he would sit and look outside his living room window. He'd watch the people in his neighborhood walk outside and get the mail from their mailboxes. He wished so badly to have the strength to do that. He wanted to tell them how lucky they were.
One day when Matt had another close call and ended up in the hospital, I'd had enough. I drove up to Salt Lake City and marched into the kidney clinic, where I waited for two hours until someone would talk to me. I demanded that they take my kidney NOW and give it to Matt. I was his perfect match! Why couldn't they use their brilliant surgeon skills and make this work? They told me no. Again.
|With Matt before the transplant|
I'm grateful Matt is now living a full life. I'm grateful he can run around with his three little girls and work a demanding and fulfilling job. That he can walk to his mailbox and get the mail again. I'm grateful I never surrendered.