Written by Shannon Hamilton, Kidney Transplant Recipient.
(From rightt: Tony Bridwell (Kidney donor), Shannon Hamilton (Kidney recipient))
I know it is very cliché, but you never really think it will happen to you. Whatever “it” is, it will not happen to you. The “it’ I am talking about is needing a kidney transplant. The weird thing is that back in 2005 my nephrologist told me that I would eventually need to start dialysis but it never really sunk in what this meant.
Later that summer I had a stunt put in before I went back to law school, just in case I had to start dialysis immediately. But by the grace of God, by eating better and exercising more, I was able to avoid dialysis for over five years. In 2010, the doctor called my wife and I into the office and told us that the time had come and I would have to begin dialysis within the next few weeks. No matter how good my diet was or how much I worked out, my kidneys had been damaged to the point of no return and dialysis was the only way I would survive.
Having a healthy kidney is pertinent to maintaining your health, the kidney basically acts as one of the body’s filtration systems. The kidney filters the blood of toxins and excess fluid that you urinate out of your body (see WebMD for more information). Without the proper kidney function, your body will be full of toxins and fluid which lead to high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, and in general you just feel terrible.
My kidney function had gotten so low that I needed to do dialysis. With dialysis you go to a center three times a week for anywhere from 4 - 8 hours each visit to have a machine act as your kidney and filter your blood to take out the toxins and excess fluid. The good new is that the process is mostly painless, however the bad news is that dialysis only gets your kidney function to about 30% and greatly affects the way you live your life.
Fortunately, I was able to start dialysis and lose enough weight to get placed on a kidney transplant waiting list. After a few months on the list a friend of mine offered to see if he was a match to donate. At the time he didn’t even know his blood type and to be honest I have to think hard to remember what mine is but miraculously we not only had the same blood type, but were a perfect match. So in November of 2010, after about 5 hours of surgery, I received a new kidney.
It has now been three and a half years since my transplant and I feel great. All of my numbers are where they need to be and I am as active as I was before I started dialysis and feel 10 times better. Of course, this is just a short version of this long and continuous story in my life.
Taylor’s Gift Foundation has done amazing and inspiring work towards raising organ donor awareness. Most people think of organ donation as something that happens once they have passed away and my guess is that most people would be okay with donating their organs once they were gone so that someone else may live. But for whatever reason not everyone checks the organ donor box on their driver’s license. Organ donation literally is a life or death proposition when you are the person needing that particular organ. In my case, if I hadn’t had a living donor I was going to be on a waiting list anywhere from 3 - 5 years with no guarantees. The reason I tell this story is because of the importance of becoming a donor.