By Michelle Rogers
A lot of factors weigh into an individual’s decision to donate a kidney. For me, it came down to not only my love for Nancy Noble and her family, but my personal experiences with loss.
I lost my sister in 2002 to suicide, my husband in 2004 to cancer and this past January a former boyfriend of six years died of complications relating to the flu. These losses were all unpreventable, and I felt like a helpless bystander as they happened.
Knowing I could possibly help extend a life — and maybe prevent another early death — made me feel empowered and ultimately that was the driving force behind my decision.
My sister, Megan, had bipolar disorder. It was a battle she had fought since her late teens, as she rode the wave of highs and lows associated with the disorder. She was hospitalized a couple times a year, when she fell into a deep depression, and put her life in danger many times while manic. Instead of staying on course with her medication, she would stop taking it because she felt lethargic. This led her to self-medicating with illegal drugs.
In August 2002, our mother found her hanging in her apartment. She died at age 31. Here’s a link to the story I wrote about her and the death of another young woman from Chelsea.
While Megan saw a psychiatrist regularly and a caseworker with Washtenaw Community Mental Health checked on her weekly — and she had her family by her side for support — it seems — to me, anyway — that nobody could stop her from ultimately following through with suicide. All the other attempts to stop her via hospitalization and medication over the last 10 years were a stop-gap solution and her depression ultimately prevailed.
With my husband’s cancer, it was a total shock. We had been married three years when he started feeling tired a lot. He made a doctor’s appointment on Friday, June 13, 2003, for a physical and to run some tests to find out why he didn’t have more energy. Just before midnight that same day, the laboratory at the University of Michigan Health System called and someone looking at the results of his blood tests urged him to go to the emergency room right away as they feared a severe low red blood cell count could lead to a heart attack at any time.
We immediately left for the hospital and, after two days of testing, doctors found colon cancer. This resulted in surgery and the surgeon successfully removed the tumor, but the cancer had spread to his lymph nods, a bad sign that it could spread throughout his body. We decided to move forward with chemo therapy in hopes of destroying the spread of cancer. But about a month after his chemo ended, he felt pain near his kidney and doctors said the cancer had returned.
We attempted a second surgery, at the doctor’s urging, as he was considered a good candidate — young and relatively healthy before this diagnosis — but when they opened him up, they found the tumor was too close to a major artery and felt it was too risky to try to remove it, as he could die on the operating table.
Five months later, he died at age 50.
It was the death of Chris Wright, someone I had been in a relationship with for six years before our breakup in August 2010, that ultimately swayed my decision to donate one of my kidneys.
Chris, 41, had been very healthy and I had never known him to be sick — not with the flu or even a cold. When I read an article a colleague shared on Facebook this past January noting a former News-Herald reporter had died of the flu, I clicked on it to see who. I had not spoken to Chris since we broke up and I knew he had since moved on in his life and married. At the same time, I had started dating Jim Walsh, Nancy’s brother.
I was stunned when I clicked on the article link and saw Chris’ photo, and read how a “father of five” had died of the flu. It’s still difficult to believe, two months later.
I had attended Chris’ funeral and reconnected with his family and friends. Everyone was so welcoming and treated me as if I was the grieving widow, in addition to his wife. A month later, a benefit was held to aid the family in paying for his medical bills and funeral expenses, and I attended with Jim. But before the event, I told his mother, whose only child had died, that I was donating my kidney to help save a life in light of the deaths of Chris, my husband and sister.
So, now I am following through on that promise to her, to myself and to Nancy. It’s the right thing to do, and I am glad that I have the opportunity to do it. It feels both empowering and rewarding.
The doctors have warned me that there could be complications and a psychologist wanted to know how I would feel if Nancy’s body rejected my kidney despite the anti-rejection drugs and everything they could do for her. My reply was, “Well, at least I would have tried.”
That’s all any of us can do, right? We can at least try. That’s why I want to take advantage of this blog to say, please at least try. You can try by donating money to the National Kidney Foundation, or to Nancy Noble’s GoFundMe campaign to help pay for her medical co-pays and expenses relating to her loss of work while she recovers, or you could follow the path I — and many others — have chosen and give the gift of life.
Think about it. There are some situations in which we’re not helpless. We can do something.