The Greatest Gift: What’s Inside?

In my last post, I shared how the idea for our book came about and promised some information on what’s inside and why.

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Our ultimate goal in writing The Greatest Gift: The Insider’s Guide to Living Kidney Donation, of course, is to highlight the desperate need for living donors and to encourage people who might not have considered donating to think about whether they could be a donor. 

Overwhelming statistics—like 100,000 people on years-long wait lists for a kidney and fewer than 20,000 transplants performed each year—become more understandable and meaningful when they are presented in terms of individuals’ firsthand experiences. Besides sharing our own stories and lessons learned, we decided to include other perspectives, with first-person accounts of people personally or professionally involved in the donation or transplant process: donors and recipients, of course, but also family members, a caregiver, a family therapist, a volunteer advocate, a transplant nurse coordinator.

From the beginning, we were on the same page in wanting to provide thorough but accessible, nontechnical and multifaceted information for both donors and recipients. We were mindful that families, friends, and acquaintances of kidney patients are the best source of potential living donors and are certainly the backbone of the patients’ support system.  In assisting donors, we reasoned, we would clearly be helping patients, too. We also wanted to reach both readers who already planned to donate or to be a recipient as well as those just exploring the idea. We initially drew mostly on our own experiences in raising issues to be considered at all stages of a donation or transplant. In recent years, as we became immersed in the burgeoning kidney-support and living-donor communities, we were able to learn what “real-world” questions others were raising in workshops, Facebook groups, and online forums.

Within these parameters, we each had our own personal motivation and goals for the book. Betsy was particularly interested in addressing emotional and family issues, how a transplant might affect you personally and the impact it can have on your loved ones; as a self-described wimp who feared the donor’s medical evaluation phase as much as the surgery itself, I wanted to provide details on tests and interviews to support and motivate others who might be similarly hesitant.

Although our experiences overlap, the reality is that potential living donors and transplant recipients have inherently different journeys. Living donation, by definition by a healthy individual, is of course a choice; transplant, on the other hand, though technically a choice, is usually a critically needed and wished-for prospect for someone with end stage renal disease. Dialysis helps patients maintain some of their kidney function while awaiting transplant, but it cannot offer the same quality of life and long-term outcomes as a new kidney. The decision to seek a transplant and the steps in the process are determined by a patient’s individual medical needs and circumstances. The medical issues naturally dominate, so frequently family and emotional considerations are given short shrift.

That’s why we have a detailed chapter on thinking through the decision to donate and the step-by-step process: what to expect and ask along the way. For recipients, we focus on the often-overlooked nonmedical aspects of having a transplant and on the emotional consequences of neglecting these important issues.

 Because we fully recognize the enormity of a decision to donate or have a transplant, we encourage everyone to consider the myriad factors that go into such a decision. We hope that having all the information contained in our book will empower readers to be informed consumers because information is power—never more so than in matters of health.