As a kidney recipient, my son, Paul, and other transplant recipients have to take essential anti-rejection medications to keep their bodies from rejecting the precious new organ they were given. Unfortunately, to avoid rejection, the meds have to lower the body’s natural immune system. The trick is to do that without the recipient’s getting an infection. With the horrific surge in COVID-19 cases throughout the country and around the world, this is not a theoretical point. When transplant recipients contract COVID, they have a higher risk of severe complications. My son’s immune system just isn’t protecting him enough, but your mask can help.
When I read reports of people insisting on their right not to wear a mask or to social distance, it makes me sadder, angrier, and more scared by the day. Scared, of course, for my immuno-suppressed son, to whom I donated my kidney in 2006, and scared, too, for my friend and co-author, Betsy, who is on dialysis; and for old friends with cancer. And for new friends in the kidney community; for anyone who’s a health care worker; for my husband and me and our healthy peers–all at high risk because we’re in the well-over-60 set–and for the otherwise healthy 30-somethings, like my daughter, who are at risk if their friends and neighbors don’t wear masks.
I could go on.
I’m reminded of the controversy over secondhand smoke. I can recall heated arguments with smoker friends when I thought we should sit in the nonsmoking section of the restaurant. As a society, we decided years ago that your right to smoke in public ends with my right not to have to breathe that dangerous air. It took decades of research, lawsuits, prosecutions, and, of course, far too many deaths, to get to that point. We don’t have the luxury of years or months or even weeks to debate this one. We need to help protect one another’s health right now–whether or not we love (or even know) the person next to us. If not my son, someone else’s.
When I wrote my original blog post on COVID-19 resources for kidney patients, back in March, I was naively certain it would be less relevant by this past summer. When I updated it in July and reported that things were hardly back to normal here in North Carolina, I was still watching for a light at the end of the tunnel.
A glimmer of light came in the fall, so my son went back to work after taking a months-long leave because he works with the public. But now we’re nervously watching cases rise again, though fortunately still not as dramatically in our area as they are in other parts of the state and country.
On the bright side for the kidney community, as I noted in July, many U.S. transplant centers that had suspended living-donor kidney transplants since the pandemic have resumed them. And that’s critical because kidney failure and the need for a transplant don’t stop just because there’s a pandemic going on. Naturally, the coronavirus adds a few extra layers of complexity to an already delicate process. But with proper precautions and an abundance of skill and care, live donations and transplants are proceeding and succeeding.
If your donation to a kidney patient was put on hold because of the pandemic, don’t hesitate to contact the transplant coordinator for an update. Also, periodically be sure to check this link for current COVID-related information about living donation and upcoming transplant evaluations. And, oh yeah, wear the damn mask! My husband, son, and I proudly did on the recent kidney walk in North Carolina.
And happy Thanksgiving! Even though the holiday may look and feel different this year, most of us have something to be thankful for. For starters, I’m thankful for my excellent health 14 years after donating my kidney.