My (Failed) Kidney Reception Adventure in Toronto

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My good friend Saul was kind enough to write a short essay about his adventure trying to donate a kidney to me in 2020. In the transplant world, everything is structured into a donor side and a recipient side. Saul’s story reflects the (failed) donor experience. I’ll add my own experience as a (failed) recipient.

Disease sucks. Kidney disease sucks in ways that’s really hard to understand until you get to see or experience it up close. It’s a reality that I’ve had to live through for many years. It involves a great deal of pain and misery that no one should have to endure. Yet it also involves being exposed to a side of humanity, filled with unbelievable kindness, that most people will never see, and that they may even find hard to believe exists. This is my story.

Talk of transplant is rampant in the dialysis unit. When speaking with any doctor or nurse, the topic of “Do you have any potential donors lined up” invariably arises. And I didn’t have one. Enduring dialysis is quite difficult, but I really didn’t feel that I was able to ask anyone to be my donor. It’s the ultimate way to put someone on the spot. I decided early on that I could not do that, because I didn’t want to risk damaging my relationships with the people I love.

And then one day something truly remarkable happened. Completely unsolicited, my friend Saul reached out and offered to be my kidney donor. At first it was difficult to wrap my head around — someone was willing to undergo so much simply to help me out. But it made sense. I’ve known Saul for almost thirty years, and know what he’s like. It all made sense.

And thus began our shared adventure through the transplant process. And what a magical time it was, full of excitement and hope. It was like the early days of the Apollo space program or the beginning of the internet, when it seemed like anything and everything was possible. Because it was. And what a great time it was.

In retrospect, it seems strange that he only made two trips to Toronto. Between all the phone calls, preparation, anticipation, and waiting, it felt like he truly had a presence here for over a year. And we shared a bond and a friendship that seemed strong. How many other people have conspired with you to bring several liters of urine into a fine dining establishment?

And then it all came to an end.

Right before the world closed down due to the pandemic, I received a phone call from Saul with the bad news. Our adventure was over. The donor medical team had too many concerns about his safety to approve the transplant, and they had disqualified him as a candidate.

My initial reaction to the bad news was disappointment. But it’s not what you might think. I know that donation was something that Saul really wanted to do. I was disappointed for him that he was denied that opportunity. He had tried so hard, and endured so much, and it was unfortunate to see it all end the way it did.

But then I also recognized some positive aspects. The medical team that was responsible for protecting his interests did its job. Given the lengths that Saul went to on my behalf, I could not put my own personal interests ahead of his safety. And that made me happy. I know that the health and wellbeing of any future potential donors will be paramount, just as Saul’s was.

It’s hard for me to be upset over how things turned out. And I can very honestly say that it’s hard to think of a time in my life when I was happier than when my friend gave me hope when he tried to give me his kidney. 

In Saul’s account of his kidney donation attempt, he wrote:

My friend, and many other people, still need kidneys in order to escape from the captivity of dialysis to the freedom of having a functioning kidney. Although my story does not have a happy ending, I hope it might inspire you to consider offering to donate a kidney to a friend or a stranger.

Read the rest of Saul’s account in My (Failed) Kidney Donation Adventure in Toronto.

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