Fourteen years ago, my dad was placed on the kidney donor list, as well as the pancreas donor list. He had been a Type 1 diabetic since he was in middle school. Dependent on insulin, always monitoring his blood sugar, always had a drink in his hand in case he needed some sugar. I’d experienced a few of his diabetic attacks throughout my life enough to know that he just needed some orange juice, some cookies, a banana, anything with sugar. His organs weren’t failing, by any means. But I think it’s just general practice that when you reach a certain age as a Type 1 Diabetic, they place you on the lists just in case there happens to be a match down the road when things could deteriorate.
Fifteen years ago, I was angry with my mom for taking me out of soccer practice because she had to take my dad somewhere important. I was mad that I had to leave in the middle of practice so abruptly with no explanation or forewarning. I was 10 and soccer was my life. She needed me to be home with my brother and sister so she could take my dad to Washington Hospital Center in preparation for surgery.
Fifteen years ago today, my dad underwent a double organ transplant of one kidney and his pancreas. Those who don’t know, the pancreas is what secretes insulin to monitor your blood glucose levels regularly. In those with Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas either does not produce insulin at all, or the insulin in ineffective. The kidney’s role is to filter the blood of wastes and to excrete them appropriately, as well as numerous other things (but this isn’t an anatomy lesson.)
My dad was placed on the donor list just a few short months before he heard from the doctors. This is extremely rare, as people are usually on the lists for years without there being a match. It happened that there was a tragic accident and a 17 year old boy passed away who’s blood type was a perfect match to my dad’s. The doctor’s knew how rare it was that blood types matched antigens so perfectly and they wasted no time to get my dad in there and check it out. Before we knew it, he was getting prepped and ready to undergo surgery.
Again, I was 10. Did I understand what was going on? Not in the slightest. Did I know why my sister was crying on the phone with my mom? Nope, but I was worried, because everyone around me was worried. My sister was 16 and my brother was 13 so they had a little more of an idea of what was happening. All I knew was that my dad was in the hospital getting some type of surgery. I remember getting pulled out of my fourth grade class by the school counselor because she wanted to make sure I was okay. I remember crying in her office, but I still don’t think I really knew what was going on. To a point, I think she made it worse by pulling me out of class; but I know she was just doing her job.
I honestly don’t think I ever truly understood the extent of what he went through until last year when I was learning about the organs in my doctorate program. What I do know is that I am thankful. I am thankful that that young man’s family was willing to bless another family with health by allowing him to be a donor. We had the opportunity to meet the young man’s mother, as well as his two younger brothers. Even at a young age, I knew how important that moment was for my family, as well as for his.
When we get our licenses at the age of 15-16, we get asked if we want to be an organ donor. We aren’t thinking anything of it as we casually check the box or skim right past it. But now I look at that box and I hope all of you check it. Because you never know what could happen in life, and you never know who’s life you could save by being an organ donor.
I know myself and my family are forever grateful to that young man and his family.