My story started one Friday with a straightforward shoulder surgery that nearly killed me. At first, the surgery seemed to have gone as planned and I returned home, but over the next few days, my pain worsened. By Monday night I was crumpled on the floor of my home, seizing, unable to move as bacteria cascaded through my bloodstream.
I spent a week in a medically induced coma. My blood pressure plummeted and my kidneys shut down. I was in septic shock. My children were called back from college and a priest came to my bedside. No one thought I was going to make it. And yet, slowly, I stabilised. I had lived – but I would face months of inpatient care and the knowledge that my kidneys had been irreparably damaged. Instead of going back to work, I would require dialysis, three days a week for four hours at a stretch. I spent most of that year in the dialysis center or at the hospital, enduring procedure after procedure. Then, when I finally gained enough strength that I could undergo another surgery, my doctors placed me on the national list for a kidney from a deceased donor.
But how long would I wait? My doctors informed me that the waiting list where I live, just north of Boston, Massachusetts, was long – an average recipient could wait up to eight years. I could shorten the wait time by finding a living person to donate a kidney to me. My sisters wanted to do it, but they were medically disqualified during screening. So I went to dialysis, day after day and week after week. And I waited.
On Jan. 1, more than a year after my shoulder surgery, I decided the New Year called for a new, more proactive approach, so I turned to the Internet and Facebook for help. After only 90 minutes of beginning what I called “Eddie’s Kidney Kampaign” I stumbled on the website of The Living Kidney Donor Network (LKDN), began reading about how to begin a Kidney Kampaign (LKDN always spells their campaign with a K) and saw a posting just one hour old by a woman from California who said she wanted to donate a kidney. I sent the woman, a 44-year-old Newport Beach resident named Kelly Wright, a message explaining my circumstances. I had nothing to lose. The worst thing that could happen is she would ignore me.
Kelly replied 10 minutes later. This is Kelly and my first communication on Facebook on January 1st, 2013, one and a half hours after I began this ‘Kidney Kampaign’.
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Kelly Wright posted on The Living Kidney Donors Network page on 1 January.
“Just registered to be a living kidney donor to an unknown recipient. A little scared but hopeful about saving a life!”
“You are a very brave and giving person. I am a 51-year-old male from North Reading, MA. I am married to Julie for over 22 years and have two college age children; Steven, 21 and Christie, 18. Complications from rotator cuff surgery on my shoulder led me to septic shock and a near death experience in October of 2011. I spent over 3.5 months at Mass General Hospital after coma and life support. Besides severe ischemic colitis I also suffered end stage renal failure and require dialysis 3 days/ 12 hours per week. My blood type is A+. I would love to be considered to be a recipient to receive your kidney. Please contact me if I might be considered and we can arrange a time to speak. Respectfully, Eddie.”
1 January at 16:50. Like: 1.
Kelly Wright: “Hi Eddie, I am O+ blood type, I think I am a universal donor. I am awaiting paperwork from my doctor to assure I am able to donate. I certainly will help if a can!”
From those initial messages, a flurry of communication ensued. By the next afternoon, Kelly was calling the hospital to begin the screening process. She passed. Our surgeries were performed that April, with great success. Of course, that wasn’t the end of the story. In a way, it was just the start. Once the surgery was over and Kelly returned home, our relationship continued – and does to this day. I refer to Kelly as my “little sister.” We still talk from time-to-time, on birthdays or holidays and saw each other recently, when my wife and I traveled to California. Her kidney lives inside me, her altruism gave me a second shot at life, and for that, I will always be grateful.
Now, I will be the first person to tell you that the circumstances of how quickly I found my living kidney donor are a rarity. It very well may be the one-in-a-million chance of a lifetime. But even if the same luck doesn’t find you, you still need to create opportunities in whatever you do, have constant faith and approach your challenges with the mindset that you have nothing to lose… because often, you don’t. For me, this was a life and death situation. If you are in the position I was, looking for a kidney donor, you need to approach that goal with passion and always keep a positive attitude. Keep moving forward. Educate yourself. Make friends with anyone and everyone. Start a Facebook / Twitter page and request that everyone “Like” your page. Then ask them to “Share” your posts and page so that more people will be able to view your page.
Maybe, just maybe, a friend of a friend of a friend will stumble across your post, the timing will be right and it will be all that person needed to finally decide to go for it and save a life. Offer to help other people in their quest and hopefully they will pay it forward and help you. But the best advice I can offer? Finding a kidney donor is like looking for a job: network, network, network.
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