In the coming weeks, periodically I’ll be introducing a few of the wonderful contributors to our book, The Insider’s Guide to Living Kidney Donation. They candidly and often movingly shared their experiences and their insights with our readers.
I already knew from personal experience and Facebook support groups that relationships both before and well after donation are fraught with complicated emotions that sometimes surface in unexpected ways. In our research Betsy and I noticed that family issues come up repeatedly even when donor and recipient are not related.
Considering its outsize impact on the donation and transplant experience, the subject of family dynamics typically gets insufficient attention. So we decided to devote a whole section of the book to this important topic. Donors and potential donors and recipients alike will be able to relate to many of the contributors’ diverse situations.
You may know that siblings enjoy the best chance of being a so-called “perfect match” (I have to keep remembering that the only true perfect matches are between identical twins): a 1 in 4 chance of matching on 6 out of 6 antigens. Sibling donor-recipient pairs are likely to have a particularly large impact on the whole family plus the extended family.
In the case of contributors Mike Collins and his sister Wendy Withers, the relationship was and remains especially close.
Wendy had had kidney disease most of her life and recalls “not knowing what it felt like to feel good.” She was raising her two young children alone after she and her husband separated when she learned that her kidneys were suddenly failing. Three of her siblings tested and qualified to be her donor, but her big brother Mike aced it: 6 out of 6.
He had a fledgling business and young family in North Carolina, but when the time came he and his wife, Mimi, and kids flew out to Texas so he could donate. They all shared a big farmhouse with two of his sisters and their families–with their parents nearby–while they waited out a series of frustrating delays.
Some 25 years later Wendy feels “great” and enjoys a very full personal and professional life. She remarried and enjoys time with her grandkids. She’s the Town Administrator for Shady Shores, Texas, which is in the midst of a major project, constructing “a fiber backbone that will connect all the government facilities for the four Lake Cities, to be able to offer high-speed Internet to all of our residents. Many areas are currently underserved.”
Mike, whose donor surgery was done back in pre-laparoscopy days (think 12-inch incision), also leads a very full life. He’s healthy and active, enjoying tandem bike rides several times a week with Mimi. His business, aptly named Tandem Translations, has grown. He translates technical materials into English from a jaw-dropping list of languages: German, Russian, French, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Serbian, and Croatian.
Even though Mike and Wendy still live in different regions of the country, their families spend as much time together as possible. Check out their complete stories in the book.