In the last week of January 1987, a young 26-year-old male in Long Island was tragically in a hit and run car accident. He had at least three siblings. One was definitely a brother. Another was definitely a sister. The other sibling remains unknown. His parents were told that their 26-year-old son had died. His parents were also told about organ, eye, and tissue donation at a time of unimaginable grief. No parent should experience their child’s death before their own. It does not make sense. It is not supposed to happen. This is not how life and world is supposed to work. But, it does. But, it did. His father consented that his son’s organs were removed and transplanted/donated to save lives.
On January 30, 1987, I was the recipient of this young man’s kidney.
This was my first kidney transplant. At 26-year-old, he died. At 4-years-old going on 5-years-old and after almost two years on dialysis, I lived. I was given my childhood. I was given my life. His parents saved my life. He saved my life.
But this story is just the beginning.
Fast forward to mid-November 2018. After an emotional meeting at a transplant support organization of a father sharing how he connected with his daughter’s organ transplant recipients, I thought about my second kidney donor and how the most recent news about 3 years ago that my 4-year-old organ donor at the time of 1995 had sisters who wished to know about and connect with me. I reached out to the OPO (organ procurement organization) to see if this wish still remained. It did. However, before I disconnected with the OPO family coordinator, I found myself asking something that I never thought I would ask and I thought someone else was asking for me: “Do you know if I can find my first organ donor and family? It was back in 1987. I was only 4 or 5-years-old. I was told years ago that the organ donor was a young man from out of state, and that it would be impossible to find him.”
The coordinator replied, “If you can get the ID # on him then we can track him and/or his family down. Nothing is impossible.”
Completely unexpectedly and unplanned, I began to do some research. I looked through my massive box of old medical records only to find that these documents were from my second kidney transplant; No luck. I reached out to my childhood nurses who I reunited with about 6+ years ago if they had any insight; No luck. I called medical records at the hospital I received my first kidney transplant and the representative said to me: “We can’t help you. The records are destroyed after 25 years. This is more than 30 years ago. Good luck.” Finally, out of desperation, I sent an email to my pediatric nephrologist. He responded to me right away and told me to contact the transplant center of my first kidney transplant.
It is always who you get. I ended up getting Maria.
I explained to her: “I was only 5-years-old. If there is anything at all and any morsel of information that you have on my first organ donor, I’ll take it. I do not expect anything from anyone. I only hope. “
To my complete shock and surprise, Maria said firmly: “I am not getting off this phone until I have you speak with someone who can help you. I am going to help you.”
The majority of people will not go above and beyond for anyone. The few who do will leave their imprint with you. You will never forget them and what they did to change your life for the better. They will completely change your life just by the one seemingly small act of kindness that amounts to the largest impact and ripple effects. Maria was that person.
Listening to classical music on the phone, I waited at least 15 minutes. It felt like an eternity. I heard a click and I thought I would cry that I was disconnected from this sweet and thoughtful woman who was trying to move heaven and earth to help me out. On the contrary, I heard a friendly woman on the phone who identified herself as a transplant coordinator. She confirmed, “There’s a record on you.”
“What?! Really? That was so many years ago, though!” I exclaimed.
“It does not matter. It is always there.”
I held my breath and asked slowly, “Is there anything on my organ donor?”
I heard the clickety click of keyboard keys. The pause seemed long and drawn out. The transplant coordinator finally said, “He was 26-years-old. Motor accident. Long Island. There’s a donor id # on him of 200083642. That’s all I have, Mary.”
That’s all I needed. I gave all the information to the OPO family coordinator. It was out of my hands.
Two days ago, I received contact from the OPO family coordinator that my organ donor was found as well as his brother. I tentatively asked: “Can you tell me my first organ donor’s name or are we still identifying him by the donor ID #200083642?”
“Brian,” she confirmed.
“Brian,” I whispered.
I said the name. I said it again and held it on my tongue as though it was sacred. I said it again as if I was saying a prayer. I tasted the name. A name. No longer a number. No longer just a donor ID # of 200083642. He would have been 58-years-old now if he was still alive. What would he have been like? What did he look like? What did he wear? How did he smell? How did his laugh sound? What were his hobbies? What would his job have been? Would he have been married and had children or grandchildren? Was he looking down on me when I was a little girl? Could he maybe have seen me as his daughter that he never had? Donor ID #200083642. Brian.
I do not know what called me to find my first organ donor. I do not know why it took me 32 years to try to find Brian. I do not know what I will say to his brother who is apparently eager to hear from me or hopes to contact me first. I do not know if I can muster up the strength and courage to tell his brother that Brian’s kidney failed and I had to have a second kidney transplant. I do know that I feel such a strong connection to them and to my second organ donor family, though I have never met them. I do know that my childhood was given back to me because of Brian. I do know that I am alive.
I celebrate and honor my first organ donor on the anniversary of Brian’s death and my life with my first kidney transplant from him. People have said to me that I should ‘leave well enough alone’ and that I have to be careful of scams and scam artists and move on with my life. Just because I dug into the past to find my first organ donor and his family does not mean that I am living in or dwelling on the past. Rather, it gives me closure or a peace of mind to understand my past better to move forward in life and be a better person. I believe the point of the past is to live in the present and to move forward in the future. What do you believe? Do you think the past is important? Have you ever felt called upon finding out and understanding something much later on in your life? Have you ever experienced that it was always about who you get in life who was willing to and had went the extra for you rather than the bare minimum? Have you ever felt a connection with someone you never met? How will I ever thank someone for saving my life?
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,