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If your friend were terminally ill and you had a chance to save her, you would, wouldn’t you?
It seems like a no-brainer, but it’s not.
What if, in saving her, you had to put yourself in danger? What if, at some point in the future, you couldn’t save your own children because you’d helped her? I wish I was a good enough person to dismiss these concerns, but I’m not, and that knowledge tortures me.
My friend is sick. She has kidney disease and she desperately needs a transplant. She is a mother, a daughter, a scientist, a writer. She is brave and clever and funny. She is valued and valuable – but she is so very ill, and, although I want more than anything to help her, I feel like my hands are tied by bonds of my own making.
As I’m sure you know, we’re usually born with two kidneys but can function fairly normally with one. Because of this, one healthy kidney can be donated to a sufferer and both the donator and recipient can recover and live healthy lives.
My friend is of Nigerian descent, and, because some blood groups are more common amongst ethnic groups, it is even more difficult for her to find a matching donor. Only 6 out of every 100 people who have signed up to the NHS Organ Donor Register have given their ethnicity as black, Asian or minority ethnic. The donor doesn’t have to be of the same ethnicity though, they just need to be a match.
When I first heard of her illness, I wondered if I would be a match. Then uncertainties flooded my brain, and I questioned whether I was capable of helping her.
Every time I hear my friend’s condition has deteriorated, my heart drops. She was vivacious, noisy and fun, now her vibrancy is dimmed by exhaustion. Two years ago, she could fill a room with her energy, now she sits under a blanket, tucked in the corner of the sofa. She is only fifty years young and is forced to undergo four-hourly dialysis, which doesn’t always work, leaving her regularly hospitalised through side-effects and complications.
I desperately hope my friend will be one of the fortunate Organ Donation recipients because, honestly, the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about – and I am aware how privileged I am that that thought isn’t mine to fight in the darkest hours of the night.
I went to a Podcast recording of The Guilty Feminist, where comedian, Jarlath Regan, talked about donating a kidney to his brother. My admiration for him grew. He explained the concept of Altruistic Kidney Donation – living people willing to give the gift of life to others. He also talked about Non-Directed Altruistic Kidney Donation, which is when an organ donation is made by a stranger.
I understand how valuable a gift like that would be, so if someone can be so selfless as to give a kidney to a stranger, why have I found it so difficult to even be tested to see if I’m a match for my friend?
I have excuses (I say that word purposefully, excuses aren’t reasons in my lexicon). I tell myself that my friend has family, and that, since they haven’t offered, it’s not my responsibility, after all, we’ve only been close for three years. Crap justification, I know, and even as I type those words I cringe.
If I’m honest, one of the reasons is because I’m scared. It’s not so much that I’m frightened of the medical procedures, I’ve had seven operations on my abdomen already (stories for another day), so one more wouldn’t be the shock it would be for some.
My real excuse (and I might even use the word reason here) is that I have a husband and two daughters.
I am adopted, so my children have fewer blood relatives than average. I am terrified that if I donated a kidney to my friend, then one of my daughters became sick, I wouldn’t have another one to give. The chances are so remote that it even sounds pathetic to me, but even the tiniest chance scares the hell out of me. Would my response to my friend be different if I had no children? I will never know because a mother’s instinct to protect her children is so strong that we consider every eventuality, even the most unlikely.
So here we are, stuck. Am I sitting here, hoping that someone can be a better person than me? Yes.
I’m also desperately hoping that all the work that the NHS and new Government directives are doing to up the numbers on the Organ Donation Register work quickly, to provide a donor through the traditional route.
I’m on the Donor Register and have been since I knew of its existence. The minute my time is up, medicine can have every ounce of my flesh to help someone else live, see, walk or anything else that might improve their time upon this earth. My family are registered too (although my husband took some persuading – his argument about needing all his body parts for future ‘ghosting’ was easy to dismantle).
If you haven’t already registered as an organ donor, please, please do. If you could see my friend, her daughter and all the love, life and potential in them, you would do it in an instant.
Me, I’ll carry on wishing I were a better person, and I’ll put this out there to my friend, as an open letter of apology and hope.
I am sorry. You are loved.
(Note from The Editor: Many thanks to Lisa for her raw and honest article about a topic that is so clearly close to her heart. If you are interested in finding out more about Organ Donation, you can click this link to find out more. To read more articles written by Lisa, you can check out her author page here, or follow her musings on her own Facebook page.)