Donate Life

DSCN3902-1200mI have included a special ‘Donate Life’ page here because my family has been fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of more than one life giving donated organ. Our involvement with organ donation has been an incredible awakening experience that has re-affirmed in us just how fragile, precious, and purposeful the gift of life truly is and just how blessed we are to be here in this place, at this time.

The following is a brief chronology and tribute to those who have not only given us life… but who have gifted us an awareness to truly appreciate life.

 

 


1989 – Diagnosed with chronic kidney failure

1994 – Started hemodialysis

1997 – Received a deceased donor kidney transplant

Our family has been so incredibly blessed by the choice one grieving family made at a time when their world was so unexpectedly and unfortunately turned upside down. Their choice was to donate the organs of their recently deceased family member – so that others may live and thrive. That selfless decision changed our life forever, the life of those around us, and history itself. The family who’s choice it was to give the gift of life through their own personal tragedy will never know how their loss touched the world – yet, my wife and I are living testaments to their kindness and wisdom. Not a day goes by without our sincere appreciation for just how fragile life is, how wonderful life is, and fortunate we are to be in this place at this time. In honor of the donor and the donor family that lost who was most near-and-dear to their heart, we live on… unable to replace who was lost, but humbly dedicated to living each new day with gratitude, grace, and remembrance.

As you view imagery from our personal archives, please pay particular attention to the content in the photographs – the people, the places, the opportunities – and the joy and wonder of actively living life. Imagine that there were no photos, there was no mention of future plans – there was no hope to awake to the dawn of a new day. The colors you see on your monitor just slowly wash to white, leaving you with an empty and lifeless array of pixels – pixels that evoke no joy, no hope, and tell no tale. This link (and no doubt countless others) would just be a dead-end for your browser: “HTTP Error 404 – file or directory not found”. In our case this error message might as well read “Error 404 – life not found”. Everything that you see on this site was made possible by a ‘gift’. A gift that empowered its recipient to reach higher, taste life, and reflect love. Of course, mere words and pictures cannot adequately describe what it means to have been given this lease on life. Gratitude comes in the form of the thousands of actions performed each day – some silent, some visible, all with humility.

Those who choose organ donation are silent heroes – without question. Before you is one humble example of a ‘life’ made possible by the decision of one such hero. This ‘life’ goes on into the future and reflects the same kind of love, generosity, respect, and responsibility that the act of this donation so graciously carried with it. To the donor family – whoever you are – we are deeply sorry for your loss. We can only tell you how grateful we are for your decision to donate… and then attempt to live life in a way that is truly worthy of your loved ones gift. Also to our other heroes, to the men and women (surgeons, doctors, nurses, researchers, techs, and hospital and care center staff) whose unrelenting care in times of need have been truly inspirational – thank you all. We ‘live’ forever in your debt.


2004 – Return to dialysis

After enjoying 6 years with a fully functional kidney transplant the performance of this deceased donor kidney is now beginning to deteriorate slowly. Blood is drawn, labs are studied, and medications are constantly re-evaluated and changed during routine monthly visits to the nephrology clinic. Changes in medication and the interrelationship between medications per patient is an inexact science. Some of these changes to medication cause significant side effects that take months to diagnose and reverse. As kidney function continues to deteriorate symptoms include significant water retention, weight gain, fatigue, head-aches, nausea, changes in vision, episodes of gout, shortness of breath, and breath that reeks of ammonia. Only when kidney function falls below 15% of that of normal function, will our private health insurance kick in to cover the cost of dialysis. Now, after nearly 14 months of continuous deterioration, we finally triggered that magic number. At this level of kidney function, the patient is pretty sick and kidney dialysis is a welcome improvement to the quality and sustainability of life.

In our case, kidney hemodialysis is performed by the Northwest Kidney Centers (Snoqualmie branch). The care is absolutely top notch. The staff is professional, knowledgeable, courteous, and kind. The service that they so unselfishly provide does more than keep their dialysis patients alive… they offer dignity and reprieve from this life threatening illness. Their sensitive care is levied in such a way that it is impossible not to get wrapped up in a spirit of kindness that begs you to impart this good will onto others. The bonds that develop with these remarkable people are deep and long lasting and they become part of a larger family – whose sole aim is your health and well being.

For us, each new day brings hope that a suitable kidney donor will be found. The staff at NKC Snoqualmie enable us to keep this flickering flame of hope alive while at the same time they provide us every opportunity to live life now – with few excuses. To the staff at NKC Snoqualmie… thank you all for your kindness, care, and uplifting spirit. You have enriched our lives and the lives of countless others. Your unwavering stewardship continues to inspire us, fill us with good will, and helps us understand and appreciate why our glass is not half empty – rather, it is… half full.


2005 – Received living donor kidney transplant

Even though we were hopeful that this day would come to pass, neither one of us truly dared to believe a transplant would happen this soon (relatively speaking). Using statistics from the National Kidney Foundation web site, as of August 2005 there was more than 60 thousand patients waiting to receive a kidney transplant in the US. Contrast this with the fact that there were only 16 thousand kidney transplants performed in the US in 2004. Average wait times for kidney transplant alone are approaching 7 years… and even then, simply being on ‘the list’ does not guarantee anything.

Enter an Angel. An Angel who also happens to be a mom, a nurse, a pastor’s wife, a bible study leader, a runner, and now… a living kidney donor. This wonderful lady is so extraordinary, so caring, and so selfless that my narrow vocabulary falls short every time I try to find the words to sufficiently describe her to anyone that does not know of her. She is larger than life by every measure… and you pick up on that from the very first moment you meet her. She overflows with life, spirit, joy, energy and purpose. Just like the childhood stories your parents may have recited to you about Angels… describing their goodness, their love, their protective embrace, and their ever watchful eyes – perpetually looking out for you, this Angel appeared from out of the shadows during our time of need (answering our prayers and the prayers of hundreds of others), she bestowed upon us nothing short of the gift of life itself, and then without skipping a beat she unceremoniously returned to the shadows – gazing our way occasionally to make sure everything was – and still is – going well.

To try and attempt to give you some sense of just how truly special this lady is she did not even know of our plight twelve months prior to donating one of her kidneys. She was not a member of either one of our families or among our close circle of friends. She was a co-worker, an acquaintance, and the leader of a newly formed bible study my wife had just started attending. Their paths had crossed only just recently and even then they only ran into each three days out of thirty. As a trained nurse, this incredible woman could see the slight deterioration in health with each new encounter with my wife. Learning of my wife’s condition as well as our desire to someday have children of our own (which was not possible with my wife’s existing condition) our plight so touched this ladies heart that it set forth the wheels of determination in her that never faltered. She knew right then and there that donating a kidney was what she was called to do. She had to win over her husband, her mother, her own kids, friends, patrons, and neighbors over giving up one of her perfectly healthy organs to a near stranger. Yet, she remained determined. With everyone questioning her reasons why, she took it upon herself to start the process by communicating her intent and getting her blood drawn.

If this blood work came back from the lab as a match (meaning both donor and recipient had similar enough chemistry that a transplant was feasible), then she was personally 100% committed to following through. Keep in mind that the initial blood work is just the beginning of a long process and the chances of taking two random people and having their blood work be sufficiently close enough to perform a transplant is relatively slim. There are many other obstacles and weeks of testing to go through as well for both the donor and recipient before the medical community will give their ok. Nothing is automatic here. Any small glitch could stop the entire process – cold. Other than that of myself (who was ultimately ruled out as a donor), no other person had undergone testing on my wife’s behalf. One fateful day in mid September we got the call… the match was a go! It was not only a close match, it was a near perfect match (which is exceptionally rare, especially given our specific circumstances). Test after test, appointment after appointment, both donor and recipient kept sailing past one obstacle after another until one day there were no more obstacles to overcome. Saturday September, 10 2005 we were informed that a transplant date had been set. My eyes well and my heart flutters every time I think back on that moment.

Wow. This has been an incredible, impossible, ride. Try as I might I can’t even begin to comprehend everything that had to transpire… in order, on-time, and without fail to get us to where we are today. The odds were not in our favor – yet here we are. So, how to thank all of those that have blessed us with this incredible, miraculous, journey? Where do we even begin to start?

To the donor – you are the sweetest most unselfish heart that God has yet created. Your determination, certainty of purpose, and positive unrelenting spirit has had a profound impact on us all. As I might (someday) tell stories of the good deeds of Angels to my own children – I do so proudly knowing that you are the basis for most of my material.

To all of the transplant staff of Swedish Medical Center – your skill and care are truly second to none. You took us in when we were sick and afraid and you released us when we were on a clear path to recovery and full of renewed hope.

Ultimately we believe that the most sincere, real, honest, and genuine thanks will come in the form of how we live our lives – moment to moment – from this day forward. Savoring life and the living of life; stewardship of self and surroundings; living with purpose; radiating gratitude and appreciation; and carrying this torch of opportunity forward in an effort to help others. Thanks to all of you, my wife and I have much to ‘live’ up to…

Sincerely,

Bruce McCallum

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