Everything You Wanted to Know About Kidney Donation But Were Afraid To Ask

A few weeks ago, I donated my kidney to a man named Eli Valdez. Until our surgery date, we’d never met. I learned of his need when I saw a flyer posted in Starbucks. I wrote about the experience here and my husband’s perspective is here. It was an emotional, painful but still wonderful experience.

In the weeks leading up to the donating and since I’ve been asked lots and lots of questions. I’ve learned that most people know very little about organ donation. I didn’t know much either until I started the evaluation process. I am not encouraging everyone to go out now and be a donor. But I do want anyone who might be interested to learn more. Feel free to contact me if you have any additional thoughts or questions. I’d be happy to give whatever information I can.

Did you get paid?

No, it’s illegal in the United State to accept compensation for an organ.

What do they do with the recipient’s kidneys?

Well, they disconnect them and just leave them there.

So, a person can have 3 kidneys?

Yes, a person can have 4 or 5 depending on how many times they’ve needed a transplant. If the donor is a baby doctors will sometimes insert both of the baby’s kidney into the recipient. It’s all kind of fascinating.

How do you know he (the recipient) is a good person?

I don’t. It doesn’t really matter to me. I hope Eli takes good care of my kidney. But that’s really up to him. I’ve given him a chance, and that’s it. Everyone (literally, every person) deserves a chance.

Why can’t someone in his family give him a kidney?

There are lots of reasons someone cannot donate. High blood pressure, diabetes, kidney stones and chronic use of medication for arthritis are all reasons someone is denied. In fact, I learned that only 15% of people who want to donate are actually approved for surgery. Also, just because someone is healthy enough to donate doesn’t mean they should. There are many personal reasons such as family situation, employment, finances and religious beliefs that may also make it difficult to donate.

Who pays for the testing and surgery?

The recipient’s insurance pays for everything. The only out-of-pocket cost for the donor is transportation and lost wages during recovery. For me these were negligible. I did get a free parking voucher and one for a meal in the hospital cafeteria. I LOVE free parking so this was a nice gesture from the kidney program.

What happens if the donor gets kidney disease and needs a kidney in the future?

There is a 1% chance I will need a kidney donation in the future. If that does happen, I would jump to the top of the transplant waiting list. I didn’t know this before this process and it was probably the most comforting piece of information I learned.

Is your life expectancy affected by having only one kidney?

My life expectancy will not be affected by my one kidney assuming I don’t start performing high risk behavior that could injure my remaining one. So that rules out skydiving. However, I personally would never, ever, have done that anyway. Just the fact that I was deemed healthy enough to donate means I will likely live longer than someone who is ineligible to give a kidney. But I believe we never know how much time we have. I want to make the most of each day I’m given. There are no guarantees.

Were you an exact match?

I was not an exact match for Eli. Really this is an extremely complicated issues that I am not qualified to expand upon. However, I was a good enough match for Eli. I learned though that one does not need to be a match at all to donate a kidney to a friend or loved one. There is something called paired exchange. Basically, if someone is approved to donate but isn’t a match they can be matched with a total stranger in a database. Then another stranger would match with your loved one. It’s absolutely revolutionary.

With Eli and his wife, Monica, two days after transplant. My husband, Jeff (tall guy with hat), was the best support team ever.

How was the recovery?

It was much harder than I anticipated. I think it’s hard to go into surgery completely healthy and imagine the kind of pain I’d experience. It was rough. For the first day I was on constant stream of pain killers. But by the next day I was up and moving. For me, the most difficult part of recovery was my stomach issues. The anesthesia and pain medications did a not-so-nice job on my gastrointestinal system. But within two weeks I was driving, walking, and mostly back up to speed. Doctors say after 6 weeks I’ll be like my old self.

What is the follow up you have after donating?

I will follow up with the doctors at 6, 12 and 24 months just to check my kidney function. Other than that, I go about my life. The only change I’ll have to make is taking less Advil, which is probably a good thing in the long run for me anyway.

How difficult is it to find a kidney donor?

For some people they have so many friends and relatives that are lined up to give. Many are healthy and can just donate. However, for many people, they struggle to find someone to help them. They advertise their need on the backs of cars, in Starbucks and on social media. Think about how hard it must be to do this. Right now, 113,601 people are waiting for a life-saving organ. This means they are waiting for someone to die who is also an organ donor and also a match. Eli, my recipient and I are both blood type O+. I learned that people with this blood type wait the longest because they can only receive a donation from someone else who has the same blood type. People with other blood types can receive from multiple types. It’s complicated and the wait can be excruciating.

What are the chances of rejection and how would you feel if your kidney didn’t take?

People who receive organ transplants are on antirejection medication for the rest of their lives. There is always a chance of rejection. But the doctors monitor kidney function and other measures very carefully, and they can intervene if rejection seems to be in progress. It is absolutely possible that my kidney will not work out for Eli or that it will eventually fail. But any chance was worth it for me. Side note: my doctor told me at his clinic they just celebrated a parent who donated to a child 50 years ago and both patients and kidneys were still going strong. How incredible is that?

If I want to be a donor but don’t know someone in need who should I contact?

Contact your local kidney transplant program or click here to learn more and register.

If I’m not sure about giving a kidney right now, how else can I help?

Become an organ donor in death. If everyone did that, the numbers of people waiting would drop drastically. Also, give blood, platelets or join the bone marrow registry. If none of this feels comfortable, here are some other options: volunteer at a dialysis clinic, offer to drive someone on dialysis or sit with someone having treatment. Lastly, it doesn’t take much to make someone’s day, especially someone with a chronic illness. If you know someone who is dealing with an illness, just ask, “Hey, how can I help?”

How to Parent in Public Even When Your Child Is Having A Meltdown

“Are you breastfeeding?” the stranger asked while I waited with my newborn to order a drink at Starbucks.

“Um, Well…” I said awkwardly, “it’s complicated.”

I picked up my iced tea, collected my lingering morsels of pride and shamefully shuffled out the door. Then I sat in my car and wondered why, exactly, did a woman who didn’t even know me care about my breasts, my daughter and how I choose to feed her?

Shortly thereafter, I went to Bloomingdales with my little one. I thought I’d run in, exchange a few onesies and rush home. But then I was accosted by another stranger who let me know, in no uncertain terms, that it was far too cold to take a baby outside. Then, like a boxer throwing one last uppercut toward the head of a crumbling opponent, she looked at me and snarled, “And what kind of mother risks a baby’s health to do a little shopping.”

Ouch!

The advice for parents from well-meaning friends and family members begins even before the birth of a child. You hear it all, 1,000 times over: Breastfeed, take time off of work to bond, co-sleep, read, put baby on back to sleep, make your own baby food, buy only organic BPA-free everything, do baby yoga and massage, use natural soaps. On and on and on and on.

With the invention of smartphones, the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle parents are being watched (and recorded) more than ever. This puts parenting on the front line for all to see and judge and—far too often—shame. It’s those watchful eyes from the public that impact our parenting the most. We end up making choices because we are afraid of being embarrassed.

It’s almost impossible to avoid feeling the competitive pull of parenthood. We all want the best for our kids. If our neighbor is making her baby food from scratch, we think we should, too. “It’s easy,” she’ll tell you. “I blend organic peaches, grapes, apples, tomato and  …” Does that sound easy to you? If a close friend starts tutoring her child to better prepare her for an upcoming placement test, it is hard to fight the urge to begin tutoring too. Parents don’t want their kids left behind.

However, what works for my neighbor or friend, might not work for my family. Jobs, schedules, temperaments, allergies, abilities, strengths, financial means, philosophies, values, siblings, religion, culture and more all play a part in how we raise our children. Those differences are perfectly fine. There is no one way to raise children. And as long as we aren’t abusive or neglectful we should be entitled to parent as we see fit.

The problem is our kids aren’t robots who perfectly follow our instructions and whose behavior is exemplary. Sometimes they act out in public. Kids whine and tantrum for a cake pop or chocolate milk or a new Matchbox car. They can be obnoxious in restaurants without an iPad. They complain about running errands. They misbehave at the most inopportune times. All the while the checkout person, waiter and onlookers are watching parents to see how they react. The playground moms are watching you. The stay-at home moms or the working moms, they are all watching you. The members of the PTA, they too, are watching you.

When parents feel those watchful eyes they often feel shame and guilt. And they tend to make parenting mistakes that will make life harder in the long run. Quelling a tantrum with that cake pop will only ensure more tantrums because the child will have learned the behavior is highly effective. Yet, parents often try to cut the unpleasantness off before it begins. That’s a big win for kids.

Instead of feeling the pressure to parent in public to suit others, here are five tips to parent your way.

Don’t take it all too seriously. Parenting isn’t an exact science. Provide love, support, education opportunities and a safe place to land in troubled times and your kids will be just fine.

If you are having a bad day, laugh. Laugh at the comments from nosey strangers. Laugh when your kids show up to school and you forgot that is was Cowboy theme day. And laugh when the babysitter quits right before you have an important meeting at work and you are forced to drag two hungry and tired children with you. Just laugh. It will make it better.

Surround yourself with nonjudgmental people who build you up instead of tearing you down. It’s easy to feel we have to keep up appearances but that does no one any favors. Instead find you tribe of moms and dads who let you be honest about your parenting struggles. These parents empathize instead of criticize. These parents don’t care if your kids watched 18 hours of television over the weekend.

Hold on to your values. It’s tempting to be swayed by popular trends. But if they don’t fit who you are, they aren’t for you.

Remember, strangers aren’t raising your children. You are the person who will bear the brunt of the consequences of your children’s misbehavior. Don’t let others shame you from disciplining as you see fit. If that means ignoring a giant tantrum in the Target parking lot, so be it. If you give in at that moment you will only teach your child that having a tantrum out in public is effective in getting something wanted (cookie, toy, attention for negative behavior).

This post is based on a chapter from IGNORE IT!: How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction. For more information on how to Ignore It! check out the book here. Follow Catherine on Twitter and Facebook.

Is Your Husband Around?

There are four words that when spoken to me incite my most aggressive impulses. I become fiery and almost hostile. It happens fairly regularly and yet, I’m still shocked when I hear it.

Tonight, as the contractor was leaving the house, he said this:
Is your husband around?

That’s it. Is your husband around? What could be so terrible about that little sentence?

Well, the reason I become irate is pretty simple really. I’m a smart woman who can handle just about anything my husband can handle around the house. In fact, generally I’m the one who fixes something when it’s broken. If I can’t fix it, I’m the one who finds, contacts and schedules the work person. I pay the house bills and arranged for the mortgage. And yet, everyone asks if my husband is around.

Just the other day the mortgage company called and asked for Mr. Pearlman even though both of our names are on the loan. Why not just ask for Mr. or Mrs. Pearlman? No one thinks Mrs. (actually, it’s Dr.) Pearlman can handle any of the “big” decisions for the family. The solar company wouldn’t even come to the house if my husband wasn’t going to be there (yes, they lost my business).

Apparently, I am not qualified to make decisions about, basically anything. I couldn’t possibly understand how to turn the water off to the house. I probably wouldn’t be able to discuss the fee for the gardener to do an additional job in the yard even though I am the person discussing it with him. I likely couldn’t understand the tricky financial lingo from the bank. I’m the one who has purchased all of our cars and yet every car salesman talks to my husband upon arrival. That all infuriates me on so many levels.

My husband does a lot around the house and raising the kids. He does all the laundry, cleans all the dishes, runs to the supermarket, takes the cars in for service, shuttles the kids endlessly, talks to coaches and teachers, arranges pick up and so much more. He’s a 50% parent, and I’m a lucky lady. He also takes care of mice and bugs, because I cannot do that (although I’m great at hiring the exterminator). Clearly, we dodge typical gender roles. And that tickles me. My dad taught me to fix things. When we bought our first house, he bought me a drill, and I adore that drill. I used it recently to hang my son’s shelves. My mom taught me how to ask for a supervisor and write a letter to speak my mind. My grandmother loves to tell the story of how she acted as the general contractor in the 1950s to build her house from scratch.

The house my grandmother built

I grew up wanting to be a woman who can do just about anything if I set my mind to it. And usually I believe I can. But every time someone asks for my husband all of my effort and education and time is relegated insignificant. Actually, I become insignificant. If mothers are taking on most of the emotional labor for the family, exactly when are we going to get credit for that? I’m waiting, not so patiently.

Kids, Here’s the Truth and I’m Sorry

Dear Kids,

I’m writing to you because you are old enough to know the truth. Actually, you aren’t. You are innocent children who deserve a childhood without fears and nightmares. But the truth is unavoidable, and at this moment there is nothing else I can say. So here it is.

I cannot protect you from a gunman. Not at preschool. Not at a concert. Not even in temple. There is no amount of guns that can make you safe because those same guns will always find a way into the wrong hands. If someone wants to kill you while you are peacefully playing tag in the playground, I cannot help you. If you are having fun at a concert with your friends or enjoying the latest movie in the theater, I cannot protect you. You could get shot, and you might die.

My beautiful daughter, I can almost guarantee you will experience lots and lots of sexual harassment. You will have unwanted attention from strangers who will look at your body and sexualize it. You will probably have a boss who will discriminate against you because you are a female or while you are pregnant or after the birth of your beloved child. You may even be raped by a stranger, or worse, someone you know. And if you choose to speak up you may not be believed. You may lose everything in the process. There are people in powerful positions who will work to silence your voice. Even if you present the most compelling evidence and you are believed, sometimes nothing will change. Because lots of people don’t care.

I’d like to tell you that you get to make decisions about what happens to and in your body, but I can’t. The right to an abortion is a fragile one, and there’s a chance you may lose that right. Even if your life is at risk, you may not be able to have life-saving surgery because some will value your fetus more than you. Don’t think you can rely on contraception to avoid an unwanted pregnancy because that right may go away too. Depending on where you live or where you work you may not have access to an IUD or the pill. And you may not always have enough money for condoms. This makes me terribly sad, and I’m sorry.

My science-loving boy, I’d like to tell you that science and data matter. That people rely on high-quality research conducted by respected institutions around the world to make decisions about our planet. But that’s not always true. There are many people who look at widely accepted beliefs about climate change and deny the existence of overwhelming data. Some people will govern with the narrow focus of getting themselves reelected. They make the rules that we all have to live by. Your grandchildren may not have any water to drink or a dry place to build a house. I know it’s scary but that is already happening to many.

You have the right to vote and voting matters. You still have this right, but some will make it difficult to actually cast your ballot. People will change the rules at the last minute to favor their political party. They will try to minimize dissenting voices by making it difficult to vote by asking for identification or limiting voting hours or moving polling locations without notice. People will say every vote counts but sometimes it doesn’t. The popular vote can go to one candidate but an antiquated system will have the electoral college pick a different winner.

In these horrible times I wake up nearly every day with astonishing disappointment and pain. So it’s really hard to continue to pretend that these terrible things won’t happen here. I cannot look into your beautiful innocent eyes and say, “It can’t happen to you.” It can. It happened to school kids just like you in Miami and Newtown and Columbine. It happened in the supermarket in Kentucky and in a temple in Pittsburgh. It happened to a professor, just like me. The congressman in our district doesn’t believe in climate change. It’s all around you, and I can’t lie to you.

But in all of this painful uncertainty, there are some truths that might help you.

I will speak up to do my best to protect you. I’ll do this by fighting the school district or suing my employer for discrimination or by writing about injustice. Speaking up may not always change things but it will show people that I care and support them. That’s not nothing. If I see something that is hurting someone, I’ll say something. If I can right a wrong, I’ll do it. It will not always be easy. But that’s usually when it’s most important. I will do this for you and you must do it for others.

I will vote until my last breath. I still believe change can come. People sacrificed in significant ways to give us the right to vote. I’ll do what I can to protect that vote, and I’ll exercise my right in every single election.

I will create a home where everyone is welcome to Sunday dinner or Passover regardless of faith or race or sexuality. I’ll make Christmas dinner for our Christian friends or Iftar for the Muslim ones. Why? Because our lives are made better by people who are not exactly like us. I’ll teach you to be open-minded and have an open heart. I’ll be kind and generous whenever I can and sometimes when I think I can’t. I’ll show you that you can make a change in this world even if it’s just to one person. To that person, that might be the difference between life and death.

I will try to live my life to the fullest because bad things can happen. I can’t prevent a lot of the bad things I mentioned. But they are less painful when we live our truest best life. Go out and live your lives and enjoy it. We owe that to the people who have been lost.

I love you. I pray that’s enough to comfort you.
Love, Mom

It’s Just Barbecue Sauce

Sometimes as parents we wonder what we would do for our children if given the chance. Of course I’d give an organ, arm or leg for my kids.

But would I spend $25 to check an overpriced bottle of barbecue sauce at the airport?

After five blissful days celebrating my in-laws 50th wedding anniversary in Maui we arrived at the Kahului Airport with a bit less than the requisite two-hour window. We returned our Chevy Malibu to Budget and hopped onto the bus waiting to take us to the terminal. We completed the agricultural scan, printed out our boarding passes and checked our bags to LAX. Everything went remarkably smoothly.

Our luck continued with all four of us snagging TSA Precheck. My daughter and husband placed their bags onto the belt to be scanned. Emmett, my son, loaded up the bag we were sharing, and we all passed through the metal detector. And then it happened. My bag with Emmett was placed in the bad lane. We had something impermissible, but what? A stray bottle of water maybe. Nope. It wasn’t water or sunscreen or something else inconsequential, either. When the TSA security guard pulled out the banned item, my heart sank.

One day during our vacation Emmett and I had a surfing lesson in the morning. After chilling in the hotel for a while I convinced him to come to town with me for a Dole Whip. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the local supermarket for some snacks. Emmett asked, “Can I look for a bottle of barbecue sauce to take home as a souvenir?” Sure, I told him. Last year when I went to Austin for a conference I brought him back sauce from The Salt Lick. He’s been slowly rationing the bottle since then. Some kids want keys chains or T-shirts or bracelets to remember their vacations. My son wants a condiment. I couldn’t be prouder.

So when the $8 Da Kine bottle was lifted out of my bag I thought, “Oh crap. Emmett will be crushed.” The TSA attendant read the look on my face, and told me I could go back out to the check in area and see if they could find my bag. If not, I could check it for $25. I gave my husband the boarding passes for him and the kids. I took mine and the bottle of sauce and left the secure area on a mission. No condiment left behind, right?

At the check in I meet Aleah, the Hawaiian Airlines employee contracted by American Airlines. I explain my plight. She isn’t moved. But she takes my bag tickets and says she will go out a take a look. Ten minutes pass. Then 15. I’m sweating and starting to lose faith. Finally Aleah shows up with bad news. She can’t find our bags. They have probably been taken already to board the plane. I go with Plan B. I ask Aleah if there is any way she can just check the sauce for me as a courtesy without charging me a fee. I explain I’m a loyal American customer with frequent flyer miles. Aleah says no, but agrees to ask her manager anyway. Before walking away she asks me what I will check the sauce in. She can’t just check a bottle. Then she walks away.

It’s now 11:46 am. My flight is boarding in 30 minutes, and I still have to go back through security. Finally she appears with more bad news. Her manager said she wouldn’t courtesy check the bottle for me but she would allow Aleah to go out once more to look for my bags. Aleah makes it clear this is a one-time privilege. I once again give her my bag tags and wait.

Tick, tick, tick. Aleah is nowhere to be found. I decide then and there that if Aleah comes back without my bag I will just check the darn sauce. The thought of seeing my son’s little lower lip quiver in sadness when he realizes his one special purchase was left in the airport was too much for me. I cleaned out my purse preparing to check it.

It’s noon, and I get a text from my husband—WHERE ARE YOU?. I’m starting to stress. At this point I just want Aleah to come back so I can check the bag, pay my $25 fee and run to catch my plane. But just then, like a Love’s in the desert, Aleah appears with one of our bags. I tell her she is a miracle worker. I tuck the Da Kine barbecue sauce made with real Hawaiian pineapple juice into the bag, close it up and thank Aleah. I pass through security with ease and run to the gate with a triumphant smile.

Would it have been ridiculous to buy a costly bottle of barbecue sauce then spend an extra $25 to check it? Probably. But I would have done it. I don’t think I would have regretted it either.

That would have been a great ending to this story. But it isn’t the end. Upon landing when our bag arrived on the carousel I noticed it was opened. Lo and behold, all the contents of the bag were there…except (you guessed it) the barbecue sauce. So there you have it. That’s parenting in a nutshell.

Taking My Own Advice

 

As The Family Coach it’s been my mission to help families enjoy parenting more. Sometimes I’m smart enough to take my own advice.

Last week we went to the fair as a family. My daughter, being a teenager, went off with a friend. That left my son, Emmett, alone with my husband and me. We wanted to make it fun for him. My husband suggested we buy an extra ride pass for us to share. I don’t do rides (everything makes me sick) so my husband bravely accompanied Emmett on the Crazy Coaster and the Cliffhanger. But I could see my son really wanted me to do something with him. I decided I could handle the giant slide.

Slowly Emmett and I climbed up steps that seemed like 17 stories. We sat side-by-side at the top in our sacks. My heart was racing. My son looked at me and asked, “Ready?” I said I was, although I wasn’t. Then we pushed off and slid down together. I screamed the whole way like a little kid. At the bottom we both giggled and hugged and smiled. It was such a great experience and I was totally satisfied in my participation.

With Rayshawn, out newest beloved stuffed animal

My husband then shared the pictures he took and I was so touched. Aside from my cheesy grin what struck me most in the pictures was how my son was looking back at me for most of the ride. He started out with both fists in the air filled with joy. But then he turned around to find me. He was checking on me, making sure I was OK and sharing the fun with his mom. This picture is such a reminder to me to put my phone down, stop nagging my kids about this and that, and just have some fun with them.

Our passes came with two games for each of us. Emmett and I played the one where you point the water gun at the little circle. I won and gave Emmett my prize. At the end of the night we finished the fair as we always do. Emmett and I rode the giant ferris wheel together at sunset, just the two of us. He calls it my Jam and he’s right. It’s just my speed, it’s 10 minutes and it’s my favorite alone time with my little buddy. Soon enough he will be the teenager going off with his friends. Then my husband and I will just twiddle our thumbs at the fair eating large smoked turkey legs and visiting the bunnies until our kids are ready to go. It will be fine, but not the same.