For people on the list to receive a kidney transplant the path is long and arduous, marked with anxiety and frustration. As one would expect for anyone with a serious chronic illness personal and family stress is high, often debilitating.
In January I wrote about Georges Annan Kingsley‘s desperate need for a kidney transplant, and his leadership in promoting the need for more people to become Living Donor Champions. My blog today features Bernie Michel’s story as he follows Georges’ lead to learn more about living donor programs, and the possibility of becoming a kidney donor. Like Georges, Bernie is an Asylum Hill resident. He is a long time community leader active in the Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association (AHNA).
George Needs A Kidney
by Bernie Michel
For those of you who are regulars at AHNA meetings, or the Welcoming Committee, or who read the RedTruckStonecatcher.com blog, it is no secret that Georges Annan Kingsley, the refugee and artist from Ivory Coast who has been on dialysis for more than five years, needs a kidney transplant. His kidneys stopped functioning several years before he came to Hartford. Last month when he began explaining the process to me, I made a commitment to understand what really is involved in the process. Here’s what I’ve done and what I’ve learned.
First, I had one very in depth conversation with Asamoah “Azzy” Anane, Living Donor Transplant Coordinator at Hartford Hospital, where Georges goes three days a week for dialysis. Dialysis is the only reason Georges is still alive. The days when he receives the treatment are split between the hours of dialysis itself and the time spent recovering from the treatment. As good as the technology is, it’s a poor substitute for a functioning kidney, so Georges’ truly productive life consists mainly of the days between dialysis.
Becoming an organ donor is an opportunity available to most of us just by checking a box on our driver’s license or signing up online. It’s easy and certainly painless to do since you don’t part with any organs until you’re done using them. However, when it comes to kidneys there’s another option, the opportunity to become a living donor, which is what I’m looking into for myself. Nearly everyone has two and can usually survive just fine on one. Giving a living part of oneself to someone else is a special kind of giving. It’s more than writing a check or even volunteering weekly or monthly.
Of the more than 120,000 people in America waiting for an organ transplant, more than 80% need a kidney. From the medical point of view, a living donor is preferred by far. It may take several months to be sure that the kidney donor and the recipient are the best possible match, but it greatly improves the chances of everything going as planned for both the donor and the recipient.
The financial burden of being a donor is covered either by the recipients insurance or the National Kidney Foundation, including all the testing needed to be sure the donor is healthy enough to safely provide a viable organ to the recipient. To be sure the process does take significant time. However, on the plus side you get a physical like no other at no cost. Blood tests for everything under the sun as well as all your other vital organs as well. Then, if everything is a go and you actually do donate a kidney (only about 10% of those who volunteer are accepted), then you can expect 4-8 weeks to recover.
Going from two kidney’s to one is a bit of a shock to the system. For one thing, it requires volunteering to experience some temporary pain and discomfort. Medical science gets better every year, but they still haven’t eliminated pain and discomfort. Yet despite the short term personal physical distress, the whole process is absolutely worthwhile because the recipient goes from none to one and is usually feeling much better in a day or two, mostly because he or she hasn’t felt well in a while.
At the end of my conversation with Azzy I asked what the next step would be. He said I need to begin with an application, which he emailed to me. Statistically I have about a 1 in 10 chance of being able to donate, and if I’m successful I’ll be at the upper age range of donors. Even if I’m not compatible with Georges, being willing to donate for him improves his chance of receiving a kidney by a lot. I’ll talk more about that next month in Asylum Hill News & Views. In the mean time, if you can’t wait until next month’s installment, you can reach out to Azzy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bernie Michel’s article first appeared in AHNA’s “Asylum Hill News & Views” March 2017 newsletter. It has been edited for this blog. Photo provided by Bernie Michel
Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor