“B Positive” Edging Closer to a B+

Back in December, I surprised myself by admitting that I actually liked–even if not loved–this unlikely new sitcom about a guy needing a kidney. I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and encouraged others to watch for signs of improvement or offer constructive feedback.

B POSITIVE stars Thomas Middleditch and Annaleigh Ashford encourage people to consider becoming a living kidney donor in a new PSA produced by CBS and the OneLegacy Foundation. (Photo: Business Wire)

Before I got caught up on the several episodes I’d missed, a major public health campaign came along last month (National Kidney Month), and I was delighted to see B Positive in the spotlight.

CBS teamed up with One Legacy Foundation to raise awareness of living donors, with BelikeGina.org. A brief PSA featuring the show’s two stars directed viewers to the site, which provided facts and personal stories about being a kidney donor. The site had links to several organizations that partnered for this wonderful effort. The result was an array of thorough information for everyone from the curious to the fully committed–and most people in between.

Dozens of the people who clicked on the link actually filled out an interest form about living kidney donation (the link is still live)–and a few even began the process to donate their kidney. Not bad!

Getting back to the sitcom itself: I’m happy to report that I think the writers have come a long way. So, does it earn a B+? You tell me.

First of all, the characters are much more multidimensional than they were in those first few episodes. Drew shows even more vulnerability. Over-the-top Gina, though still zany, has become more nuanced. Even Drew’s dialysis mates have fleshed out as real people. The aloof, cynical Samantha now occasionally shows a softer side; Jerry is more relatable; and Eli, the former NFL star, shows that he cares about more than his championship ring. In short, they are no longer reduced to punchlines.

I’m also glad to see that Gideon, the flamboyant gay dialysis tech who typically has one-liners, is capable of rising to the occasion. We’ve seen him react responsibly and even empathetically when his patients needed that TLC.

I’d initially criticized the seeming routineness of Drew’s dialysis sessions, but a few scary and realistic events occurred and became teachable moments. They led to a terrific double episode that combined some realistic consequences of missing dialysis with hilarious sitcom humor.

No, kidney failure isn’t funny, but people in most any situation can do and say funny things. I, for one, am glad to see viewers exposed to–and yes, laughing about–some of these unusual but important topics. They’re more likely to remember what they “learned.” Yes, the show is still uneven, but what series isn’t? I look forward to more episodes.

Letting Your Donor Find YOU–Really!

If you didn’t already know that there’s a critical kidney shortage, I hope you’ve seen the social media posts, including on this blog, and the public education campaign in honor of National Donate Life Month. If not, I can sum up very briefly: there simply are not enough available organs for all the people who need them in this country (more than 100,000 people are waiting for a kidney–most of them for several years).

You may also have read here and elsewhere that living donors represent the best option for people with kidney failure. They are usually better matches, typically last longer, and have better outcomes than kidneys from a deceased donor. But if you’re in need of a kidney, you may be wondering just how to start what is euphemistically referred to as “the conversation”–for the biggest ask of your life.

Let’s face it, people who have trouble asking for a ride to the airport don’t even begin to know how to ask for a bodily organ.

The good news is that you don’t have to ask. People who have succeeded in finding a kidney will tell you that the key is just to make it known that you need a transplant and provide basic information. Ask everyone you know to simply spread the word–whether by email, social media, in person, or shouted from the rooftops.

Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

Granted, for some people, even this ask can be very challenging. A lot of people don’t like to draw attention to themselves and especially not when the focus is on their being in need. But viewing it as an opportunity to educate people about kidney disease and living donation may help make the quest more palatable and certainly meaningful.

The other piece of good news is that you also don’t need to figure it all out on your own. The National Kidney Foundation, among other organizations, offers workshops and resources to guide you. The Living Kidney Donor Network, founded by two-time live-kidney transplant recipient and active donation advocate Harvey Mysel, created a program called “Having Your Donor Find You.” LKDN is a nonprofit dedicated to educating both the public and kidney patients about living donation. Its online program consists of a series of helpful videos, so you can take advantage of it no matter where you live–and it’s free.

When I donated my kidney to my son in 2006, ours was an obviously compelling situation. Since then though I’ve encountered many living donors who had no objective need or pressure to take action. They simply learned of a story of need that touched them and made them want to step in. That’s where social media and old-fashioned, low-tech word of mouth come in.

Some people even choose to donate to an unknown recipient whom they may never meet, initiating a swap or a chain. Multiple transplants are the awesome result. Paired donation and all the exciting variations weren’t available back when my son needed a kidney. They open up extraordinary possibilities today!

Here’s to You, Living Donors!

During Donate Life Month, the focus is typically on urging people to register to be donors after their death to try to meet the critical organ shortage. More than 100,000 people in the United States are currently waiting for an organ, most of them for a kidney. The reality is that, even though registering to donate is extremely important, unfortunately, it’s not sufficient to meet the need. That’s why I’m an advocate and the reason I created this website: to encourage and support people to consider living donation.

This year for the first time, Donate Life Month includes a special day to salute living donors: April 7 is Donate Life Living Donor Day! The large photo below–the same one that graces the front page of this website–was taken almost exactly three years ago at the Bean in Chicago. We were quite a mixed bunch, mostly kidney donors but a few liver donors as well–such as the woman from India who donated to her husband (they were there with their two beautiful children, in fact). That weekend I met donors of all ages and regions. Some had given to family members, to friends, to someone they barely knew, and several even gave to someone they’d never met and still hadn’t years later. It was an inspiring, emotional, and extremely fun weekend.

Living Donors Rally, April 21, 2018, in Chicago–we set a Guinness World Record for largest gathering of living donors! Do you see me?

In addition to adding to the number of available organs, living donation has several bonuses. Having a living donor typically produces a better outcome for the patient. It’s usually a better match, the surgery can be scheduled under optimal conditions, and, most important of all, it lasts longer. For a kidney recipient, that can be double the lifespan they might have after a transplant from a deceased donor. And even though living kidney donation is definitely major surgery, virtually all donor surgeries are done with minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, which makes a big difference in both pain and time to bounce back. It was much easier than this self-described wimp had ever expected.

Another bonus: every time someone who’s on the national waiting lists for a deceased donor finds a living donor and is removed from the list, that obviously shortens the list accordingly. So, in addition to helping the recipient, donors are indirectly helping countless others as well.

So here’s to you/us living donors! Please think about learning more on the subject, ask questions, think some more, and consider joining our ranks. Studies find that the vast majority of living donors have no regrets. I know it was the proudest day of my life.