Several weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a new TLL reader, Melissa. She had heard about the blog through another reader and was thrilled with how it resonated with her values and belief system around health and well-being. She inquired about some dietary and lifestyle suggestions to support her after undergoing a recent voluntary surgery; a selfless act in donating one of her kidneys to a complete stranger. She happily agreed to share her inspiring story with all of you:
I never would have thought that a story in a magazine could change my life, but it did. It was the February 2010 issue of Glamour, a story about Christina Do, a young woman from New York who decided to donate her kidney to a stranger to set off a donation chain that ultimately saved 11 lives. Quite often, a kidney patient has a loved one who is willing to donate their kidney, but can’t because they aren’t a good match. What a donation chain does is pairs up an altruistic donor with a stranger who needs a kidney and is a match, but the only way that stranger can get the donor’s kidney is if their loved one donates to someone else, whose loved one donates to another person, and on and on it goes. Kidney chains are difficult to coordinate and are often broken early due to some unexpected cause, but the concept is one that, when properly implemented, can save many lives. When I read Christina’s story and how she was healthy enough after her donation to compete in a triathlon, I knew I, too, was going to donate my kidney.
I’ve always been an incredibly healthy person. Part of that is good genes, but mostly I believe my health is due to the attention I give it. I’ve always been an athlete and have made working out a significant part of my life. On top of that, I eat right, take vitamins and supplements, and laugh every day (an integral part of health and happiness, if you ask me!). So when I told my friends and family that I was going to voluntarily undergo surgery – for a stranger – it came as quite a shock to most of them. My fiance (then boyfriend) accepted my decision with the most ease – he knew me well enough to know that I would do more than my share of research before jumping into anything, and more importantly, he knew that once my mind was set on something, it was going to happen no matter what. Though my family understood my decision and why I felt compelled to do this, they were less than happy about it, but they supported me every step of the way (and now they are all very proud of what I’ve done!). Some friends felt similarly - confused, but supportive – and, as expected, some people thought I was just plain crazy!
As I began to undergo the months of testing, testing, and re-testing, I have to admit - there were moments when other people’s worries had crept into my mind and made some doubts bubble to the surface. But it all came back to one thing: treating others how I would want to be treated. I knew that if I were ever in the unfortunate position of having to helplessly watch a loved one suffer and die, I would pray that someone, anyone, would step forward and save their life. How, then, could I not do the same thing myself? And when the day finally came that I was approved for donation, and then later, that a recipient had been found, I became totally aware of what I always knew deep down – this was what I was meant to do.
My donation went off without a hitch. I was up and walking the next day, and home the day after that. To be perfectly honest, the first two to three weeks were not the best I’ve ever had. I was sore, tired, and extremely bloated from the gas that’s pumped into your body when laparoscopic surgery is performed. Slowly, but surely, though, my energy returned, as did my appetite (in full force!), and within no time – a matter of months – I was back to working out again. All in all, a small sacrifice for such an incredible outcome.
But not all things related to my donation went smoothly. Unfortunately, only one week before my surgery, my company (which was in the process of going under) let me go. I was absolutely devastated, but really didn’t have time to deal with my feelings, as my operation was only days away. Trying to find a job while in recovery was no easy matter either, and it turned a slow process into an even slower one. However, I’m now in a new, far superior job, with a great company (one I’ve previously worked for) and I can honestly say now that losing that job was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I’m worth more than a company who doesn’t value a good employee – and a good person – when they have one.
Today, I couldn’t be happier. I happily got engaged in early June (about three months after my surgery), I started doing CrossFit at a local facility and it has me feeling amazing, and I’ve recently begun a complete dietary facelift – a slow elimination of all meat, dairy, and wheat. One of the common, lingering side effects of my donation has been fatigue, and with the guidance of a natural health consultant and This Little Lark herself, I’ve come to learn how truly vital diet is to complete health. I had a good diet before, but as I begin this transformation, I can already see the vast difference this new way of looking at food is going to have on my life.
This entire journey has given me a new outlook on life. I realize now, more than ever before, how precious and fragile and fleeting life is, and how quickly the life of a loved one – or even our own life – can be taken from us.I’ve begun to finally put myself first and listen to my body more than I ever did before, and I’m working, every day, on not sweating the small stuff. When everything else in the world is going out of control, my health is the one thing I can take charge of – and I’m going to make sure I take advantage of that fact every day for the rest of my life.
A little over a month ago, on 9/11, I had the great fortune of connecting with my recipient. As it turns out, my kidney donation led to three lives being saved (a six-person chain), and my direct recipient, Robin, could not be more appreciative of this wonderous gift. I always knew that I’d made a huge difference in someone’s life, but seeing the results of my donation – a living, breathing, HEALTHY human being - is one of the most rewarding and miraculous feelings I’ve ever experienced. Robin and I are in near-constant communication, and even plan to meet in the not-too-distant future (as well her friend, also named Melissa, who donated so that Robin could get my kidney). Her vibrance and lust for life are constant reminders of how truly lucky I am. Robin calls me her ‘angel’, but in truth, she’s mine. She will forever be my motivation to keep myself feeling as alive as I do at this very moment – I owe it to myself and I owe it to every person out there, like Robin, who would give anything to know what a healthy body feels like.
Thank you, Melissa, for your inspiration. I hope your selflessness continues to spread to others where they may pay it forward, in whatever capacity they are able to.