Happy 15th to The Comeback Kidney!

We’ve been celebrating the anniversary of the day I donated my left kidney (yes, we named it The Comeback Kidney) to my adult son, Paul, every year.

Sometimes with a big party:

And a few fun mementos, courtesy of Paul’s sister, Nora:

Sometimes with whatever we could manage, as in 2020 when we were dealing with COVID and a few other “inconveniences”:

But we never failed to mark this very special occasion, the day that gave Paul a new lease on life–almost literally–and planted the seeds that gradually sprouted into my donation advocacy.

Now, here we are at Number 15! The Comeback Kidney, thankfully, is still going strong, and my humble remaining kidney is doing great, so we have much to celebrate. Though there was no big party, we were able to enjoy a lovely dinner at a favorite restaurant followed by an updated version of the cake.

It was an extra treat to be able to share it– indoors–with a couple of good friends, who thoughtfully presented us with the most appropriate kidneyversary gift of all: a donation to the charity of our choice.

After all, attention must be paid. (And please pay attention to your own kidneys–be sure to have your kidney function checked at your next check-up.)

Have You Heard This One?

As someone who’s always tried to find the humor in serious situations, I can attest that even kidney donation can include some laugh-out-loud moments. I know I’m not alone, as I wrote last year in a blog post on hilarious questions and comments that fellow living donors on Facebook have heard. Example: “OMG, they didn’t wait till you died?!”

In my own experience as a donor (and mother of my recipient), moments that didn’t seem remotely funny at the time have since emerged as gems. Example: A young technician did an ultrasound to try to locate my adult son’s internal bleeding a week after his transplant. After the surgeon and radiologist came in and concluded that he needed exploratory emergency surgery, everyone headed out somberly. The tech sent them on their way with a perky “Have a nice day, y’all!”

Photo by Teona Swift on Pexels.com

Then there was the time, while my son was recuperating from the surgery at our house and I was being super careful to protect him from exposure to germs. I’d hidden my bouquet of flowers in our bathroom and thought everything was going great–till I discovered that he and our teenage daughter had unwittingly been sharing a toothbrush for a week.

If you have some real-life donation-related chuckles to share, please let me know!

Live Radio Looks at Live Donation

As our book’s publication approaches, and Betsy recovers from her recent dual transplant (17 years after her first kidney transplant), I’ve started receiving interview requests. Last week we were invited to be on San Francisco’s NPR affiliate KQED’s live radio show, The Forum. Since Betsy was still in the hospital, I was solo for the episode, Living Kidney Donation: The Greatest Gift. It was exciting to hear a radio host say for the first time, “We’re talking with Carol Offen, co-author of The Insider’s Guide to Living Kidney Donation.

Just as exciting–and far more significant–was that a popular live radio show was devoting 31 minutes of airtime to talk personally and informally about kidneys and living donation: vitally important subjects that deserve lots of attention.

The host, Lesley McClurg, asked me to share my story of donating my kidney to my son nearly 15 years ago. That I would donate again in a heartbeat is a testament not only to the dramatic difference it made in his life, but in my own as well. It’s an extraordinary feeling to know that you’ve enabled another human being–whether a loved one or a stranger–to live a fuller, normal life. The experience made me passionate about raising awareness of living donation and chronic kidney disease.

I was honored to share the Zoom stage with Dr. Nancy Ascher, a prominent UCSF transplant surgeon (for starters, she’s the first woman to transplant a liver) and a living kidney donor herself. It was great that she could speak to both the medical and the emotional aspects of donation, and the host engagingly integrated our overlapping perspectives.

I was surprised to hear Dr. Ascher say that she hadn’t thought about the risks when she made her decision to donate to her sister. In retrospect, I realized that, even though I’m a wimp, I didn’t really think about those things either (though I strongly advise prospective donors to fully inform themselves). Sure, I was scared, but I was just as freaked out about the battery of tests for the donor evaluation as I was about the surgery.

The Forum is a morning call-in show, and several listeners shared their own stories of donation or transplant. Some were very powerful. I’ll never forget the gentleman who called to thank Dr. Ascher for performing a liver transplant 20 years ago that gave his wife 17 additional years of life. His voice broke as he described the special experiences she’d enjoyed during those gifted years.

A kidney recipient, Tameez Sunderji, also joined the show to tell about receiving a kidney from his sister eight years before. His kidney failure, like so many others, was discovered by chance before he had any symptoms. He was very fortunate to be able to have a preemptive transplant–that is, before he ever needed dialysis. Both he and his sister are doing well.

A few other callers who were living donors themselves described their active lifestyles since donation and what a gratifying experience it had been for them. Some listeners called in to ask Dr. Ascher whether they could be donors despite being over 60 and whether insurance would pay for a mother-daughter liver transplant (short answers: yes, if very healthy; yes, recipient’s insurance pays for both).

A couple of months after participating in a podcast episode on transplantation, I was blown away when a Facebook commenter told me that “Your story on This Podcast Will Kill You was the final push I needed to register to donate. I find out today if I’m approved! THANK YOU!!!!” I teared up when I read it, of course–and even moreso a few hours later when she announced that she’d been approved to be a nondirected donor (for someone she may never meet).

I like to think that learning about the compelling need for living donors and hearing our personal, candid stories on The Forum spurred some listeners–including host Lesley McClurg–to consider the idea of being a living donor in a new, encouraging light.