wanted dead or alive (kidney)

When met with people in awe that I was able to donate a kidney to Robert, I have joked on more than one occasion that instead of the popular pickup line of the 1970s, “Hey Girl, what’s your sign?” Robert’s was “Hey Girl, what’s your blood type?”— implying that our match wasn’t entirely random, that Robert only dated women who were potential donors. Truth is, Robert never asked anyone to give him a kidney and he certainly didn’t want me to do it. “No, I don’t want to do that,” he said to my, “We should try to see if I can give you a kidney.”

Too much guilt. Too much indebtedness. A kidney from someone who just died means never having to say I’m sorry if the kidney rejects because nobody put herself in harm’s way for you. A kidney from someone who just died means never having to say thank you ad nauseam because nobody put herself in harm’s way for you.

Problem is, a kidney from someone who just died doesn’t work as well as one that hasn’t been resurrected. Don’t misunderstand, any kidney is better than no kidney at all—no kidney at all means dialysis (which Robert endured for years) or death (arguably a much worse outcome for most people)—but according to Organ and Transplantation Network data as of February 25, 2015, 80% of people transplanted a living donor kidney are still living 5 years later, while only 67% of people transplanted a cadaveric kidney are.

And bigger problem is, there simply ain’t enough dead kidneys to go around. Every day, 12 people die waiting for a cadaveric kidney transplant.  These were chances I didn’t want to take with Robert.

“But how amazing is it that you were actually a match for him?” I’ve been asked repeatedly.

Not really. People—including very smart people—are just simply very ignorant to what being a kidney donor entails.

Yes, you can donate to someone of a different race. It is the blood type that matters most. Type O people can give a kidney to anyone, but type O people can only receive a kidney from other type O people. Robert’s blood type is O. My blood type is O.

No, the evaluation for donors does not involve any wildly invasive procedures. My evaluation involved a physical exam, a blood draw, a 24-hour urine collection, and a CT scan.

No, donating a kidney does not mean taking a huge risk with your life. It does mean taking a tiny risk that you’ll die on the operating table—but you would be three times as likely to get struck by lightning in your entire lifetime. But the payoffs? Better than a MasterCard® campaign. (Priceless.)