Think about it, (as we don’t, do we?) until we have to - It can happen out of the blue. (Only sometimes we think or make a decision about being a donor and carrying a card for when we die and that’s hard enough to comprehend.*)
When the question comes all the what-ifs, ethics, buts, and all the negatives rush in. It takes time to comprehend, although from what I have seen, the person who is willing to donate will know immediately without question, that it’s their only decision. Not only that, but it’s the only thing they want to do and must do. These special people step-up to the mark and make it happen, as they take over for the recipient, they do not have a decision to make to save their loved one and know they will see it through. I doubt any recipient would ever ask a family member or friend to be a live donor - it has to be the donor’s choice and some recipients would refuse it anyway.
There’s the waiting game then, as the recipient remains very poorly on dialysis, the prospective volunteer donor goes through a battery of tests for months to see if they will be selected and allowed to be an appropriate donor, if physically fit and healthy, and mentally strong enough. (Some people find they are not matches for their loved one, but could be a cross-match for another person, if willing to donate live to a totally unknown person – may be a mindstep too far and a big ethical or personal decision to make.) I can only comment on the experiences I have witnessed.
Seeing the healthy-looking recipients waiting to go home from the ward is a fantastic thing to see, having received kidneys from their ‘dad’, ‘sister’, ‘friend’ – amazing donors, ‘as all this would not happen without them’ as the surgeon said. ‘These people are the stars’.
Other recipients have had the other mind challenge of waiting, waiting for a kidney from someone who has died. People who had waited 4 years on dialysis, for 4 hours three times week, or 2.5 hours six times a week, or a young man who had been in a coma and looked marvellous going home. I heard stories of getting the call in the middle of the night as a suitable kidney was thought available, then finding after waiting in hospital that they could not have the kidney again for various reasons and to go away to wait until the next time. Then the success of seeing these ‘normal’ people ready to go home to live a life, talking about when they can go to the gym again, lift weights, run..!
Everyone says, and knows, that both parties are ‘brave’ to go through with this major transplant operation. Those involved say it’s not about being brave, but just both needing to do it, being positively resigned to go through it together. I know the recipient has guts to go through with it to take this chance of a new life, and the live donor has the surreal experience of going into hospital as a fit, healthy person, knowing the fear of ‘considered’ risks and not flinching to back out.
I wish all these people I have seen in the last week, a very speedy recovery and a successful long-term outcome to be able to live a happy, healthy and full life, especially to my family members who are now out of hospital. (This has been quite cathartic to write, and to consider over the recent months my own stance about kidney donation.)
* Soon everyone will not need to carry donor cards, as legally everyone will be prospective donors, unless reversely we choose as individuals to ‘opt out’ in the future.