i need a hero

A few years ago, I had a chance to sit down and chat with one of the older bigwig nephrologists. Not quite old or big enough to have a disease named after him, but close. He had indirectly donated a kidney to his wife. One of those swap agreements in which two people wanted to donate to their loved one, but couldn't because of something like incompatible blood types, so they each gave their kidney to the other person's loved one. "How does it feel to be a hero?" he asked.

I could tell by the way his chest was all puffed up and the smirk on his face it was more of a serious "welcome to the club" kind of a statement than a question. Not to border on man-hating, but I thought it was just like a man to call himself a hero after donating a kidney. Like being out on a date and commenting, "What a beautiful day it is," and the guy responding, "You're welcome."

I didn't know how to respond to Dr. Old Bigwig. I didn't see myself as a hero. Had I given up a body part to benefit someone else? Yeah, whatever, so did 6,572 other people the year I donated. And that was just the alive ones. Another 6,700 died first. And make no mistake, it was not an entirely selfless act.

I did it to keep Robert here.

I have been known to jokingly compare my not entirely selfless act to an In Living Color sketch in which Jamie Foxx portrays Ugly Wanda—“What you need, boy? A kidney? I gotchu,” as I pretend to scoop a kidney out of my left lower back. “You ain’t gotta go nowhere!”

All kidding aside, Robert had already been on dialysis for nearly 5 years when we met and I didn’t want to take the chance that he wouldn’t be around in another year or so when UCSF thought a deceased donor kidney might be available for him. Dialysis can sustain life for a very long time, but it is still end-stage kidney disease and a lot can happen in a year. Besides, Robert was only 32 years old at the time—he needed a fresh kidney, not one that had a few years shaved off of it because it sat around on ice for a few hours. Ready, willing, and able, I was his best chance to keep him around for the rest of my life.


That was 8 years and 11 months ago.  Still two healthy kidneys between us.