Tomorrow marks an anniversary of sorts, one that I am heartbroken to celebrate alone, but proud to celebrate at all. Four years ago I donated a kidney to my husband. This is a milestone that I never anticipated celebrating without him, but this year, and every year after, I will be. Because my husband died 19 months ago.
Not many people are lucky enough to call themselves a living donor. Most organ donors will die before making their donation. My husband did. So I am among the few who have been so fortunate in this life. My husband was not fortunate when it came to his health. He was 31 when he was diagnosed with kidney failure. I met him when he was 32. The person that I always knew him to be was someone whose body didn’t work quite right. His body couldn’t function the way it was supposed to and it was very hard on him, both physically and psychologically. But after the transplant he was a new man. He was the same person, but it was as if he was just a little bit more cheerful, a little bit brighter, and a little bit happier. He felt good for the first time since I had known him. His body worked and he finally felt normal again. Just like everyone else.
I loved seeing my husband healthy. And I loved that I was able to be the one to give that to him. I gave him his health back. People talk about this transplant as though I saved his life. I didn’t. Dialysis saved his life. His doctors and the transplant team saved his life. I gave him health. I gave him two and a half years of health. Just long enough for him to give me a daughter, a daughter that I now raise alone. A daughter we would never have had if not for that transplant. She is the greatest gift he ever gave me.
He died in a car accident on a Friday. I had asked him to pick up dinner that night. I had such a rough week at home with a cranky infant while he was away on a business trip. He was home and I wanted a break, so I asked him to pick up pizza. I didn’t know that this would be the last thing I would ever ask of him. His co-workers told me later that when he left work that night, he told them that he just wanted to get home and spend the weekend with his wife and daughter. We never got that weekend together. Had I known what was about to happen I never would have asked him to go. I will always wish that I never asked him to go. I will always wish that I had done anything else, anything that would have kept him home with me. Anything that would have kept him alive. I have battled with the guilt of this decision, and then I remember the transplant.
I have forgiven myself for this decision, the one that cost him his life. It wasn’t easy to do, but I know that had I known what was coming I would have done anything to change it. I would have done anything to keep him here with me. And I know that because I did do anything. I gave him a part of me that I can never get back. The transplant was successful and I gave him health. I am now more grateful than ever that I was able to do this for him. Even though I lost him after only two and a half years, the peace of mind that the transplant has given me in the wake of his death can never be overstated. There will never come a time when I will wish I hadn’t given him my kidney. If my remaining kidney were to fail tomorrow I would still be grateful.
When he was sick, I felt helpless to fix it. Then it came time for the transplant, and now I can say that I fixed it. The only thing that I could have done to make his life better was exactly what I did. So when I go into those moments of guilt about the night I lost him, I remember that if I could have fixed it, I would have… because I did.
It will be of no surprise that I believe strongly in the importance of organ donation. Organ donation gave my husband a second chance at life. It changed my life. It is the reason my daughter exists. My husband was a registered organ and tissue donor. Because of his health he was unable to donate his organs, but he could still change lives. Because of him, an 84 year old in Massachusetts and a 28 year old from overseas have both received the gift of sight. His skin has helped three burn victims in Maryland and Virginia. And his bones have been used to help over 4o others. Because of him, nearly 50 people have a better life.
None of this brings my husband back. But nothing will ever bring him back. So in the wake of his death, it is comforting to know that nearly 50 people who never knew my husband have been touched by him after his death. It helps to know that someone out there may be seeing their children for the first time, or hiking a mountain that they never could have hiked, or is simply reading a book… because of him. I lost my husband and he isn’t coming back. It helps to know that even though his life was cut short, there are people who are living better and fuller lives because of him. I am grateful for that. I am grateful to know that, even though those people may never know his name, his last act in this world was to make their lives better.
You may also like to know that I am still perfectly healthy. A healthy body functions just fine with one kidney. Today in the US, there are more people waiting for transplants than there are organs to be donated. An average of 22 people PER DAY will die waiting for an organ donor. There is a shortage of organ donors in the US, but there doesn’t have to be. There are many reasons why so many people have not chosen to register as an organ donor, but I will be honest in saying that I don’t understand. I am not a doctor, I don’t work for any foundation. I am just a wife who loves her husband, who knows what organ failure looks like, and who knows the value of a life saving transplant. I am just a widow who knows what it feels like to lose the love of my life. My heart breaks knowing that tomorrow there will be 22 more heartbroken families than there were today. My husband and my daughter are my everything. They are my life. And in my husband’s honor, today I ask you to become an organ donor and save a life. Someone like my husband will need your help after you die. Everyone dies, no one lives forever. When I die, I hope that they can take everything. That is what I asked them to do with my husband. I told them to take it all, I needed his death to give someone else life. I will do the same with my body and my daughter will learn the importance of doing the same.
Donating my kidney is one of the greatest experiences I have ever had. That one act gave life to both my husband and my daughter. I will always be grateful for that.