Contributor Spotlight: All in the Family

I explained in our first Spotlight on Contributors why we devoted a whole section of our book, The Insider’s Guide to Living Kidney Donation, to family dynamics. The chapters by the following two contributors–Monica Sheppard and Daniel Ranch–illustrate how different families handle medical crises differently, yet with some surprising similarities, regardless of their background.

Monica Sheppard, a research analyst who lives in the Baltimore area with her husband, Reggie, donated to her mom, who, she says, had always been a “giver.” Even though her mother tried to downplay the urgency and the discomfort of her kidney failure, Monica and her brother instinctively recognized the critical need and volunteered to be tested to be a living donor. Monica made the cut.

As an African American, Monica initially feared that her friends and relatives might be negative about her plan, because organ donation, particularly live donation, is uncommon in the African American community. Instead, as she relates in her chapter, she was able to turn their hesitancy and natural concern into a learning experience. With a better understanding of living donation, in fact, a few people shared that they might even consider the idea for themselves someday. (A good friend later became a nondirected donor!)

Today Monica, who donated her kidney nearly 14 years ago, leads an active personal and professional life. She’s coming up on 20 years at RTI International, where she co-leads the Emerging Equity Scholars program. She and husband Reggie are enjoying resuming travel and have an upcoming trip to Mexico. In her quieter moments, Monica is an avid podcast and audible book listener.

Aside from the cultural pressures that Monica feared, for most couples and families touched by kidney disease, the medical aspects of the experience are frightening unknowns. But even for couples very familiar with their options, like physicians and med students, the experience can be overwhelming and similarly scary.

Daniel Ranch, now a pediatric kidney specialist himself, donated to his wife, Kana Kornsawad, in 2009, soon after they had both finished med school. As Danny relates in his chapter, instead of listening to the experts who told the couple that Kana’s kidney disease was progressing fast, they went looking for other opinions. In hindsight, he admits that their years-long delaying actions were futile–“but doctors are human too, and in times of crisis, we will cling to any shred of hope, same as anyone else.”

Fortunately, Kana was ultimately able to get her transplant in time–with her husband as her donor–and his kidney has served her well. Interestingly, she and Danny both care for transplant patients in their respective careers (her specialty is Internal Medicine). We know that in addition to skill and caring, they both surely bring a deep understanding and empathy to their interactions with their patients.

With the pain of those difficult pre-transplant years receding from memory, today Danny and Kana still share a love for their work and for each other. They spend their little free time happily walking their “pampered” dog, Camille, together in the woods and neighborhood parks.

Read Monica’s and Danny’s chapters in The Insider’s Guide to Living Kidney Donation.

For more information about the book, donation-related resources and FAQs, plus other blog posts, be sure to explore my website.

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