Denise Hunter - My Living Donor Story
When a tragedy strikes a community, a natural rally of support systems and donations follow. It’s human nature; people want to help make things better. This is the same for people waiting for a kidney donation. They live day to day in a tragedy and yet, the majority of us will overlook the most obvious and vital gift that can be made- the donation of a kidney; the donation of life. I decide to help my community by doing so.
Why did I decide to donate a kidney? In 2012 I learned about my friend’s nephew, Conley Tucker. The story and fundraising campaign of Conley caught my attention. He was diagnosed with Alport’s Syndrome and had been on dialysis and in need of a kidney. His Aunt stepped up to the plate and graciously donated one of hers. During Conley’s transplant surgery I was, coincidentally on a trip to Nepal that kicked my emotional butt. In the past I had seen extreme poverty in third-world countries, but for some reason, this particular experience in Nepal changed my perspective on life- I returned home a different person.
For me it took some uncomfortable clarity to learn ‘gratitude’. My life was easy, a total cakewalk. I had clean water to drink and roof over my head, not to mention freedom and the capability to be healthy in the wonderful midst of supportive family and friend’s. Now it was my time to help, make things better; but how? Saving all of the children of Nepal seemed quite daunting and unrealistic. A month after his transplant, Conley suffered a rare complication and his new kidney lost blood and failed.
Emotionally I was hit with a ton of bricks for Conley and his family. They had been set back and thrown back into tragedy. I didn’t even personally know them at the time, but it didn’t matter. I knew then that if Conley needed blood type A that I wanted to be his next living donor candidate. I educated myself about the process and found that the procedure was safe, had a huge success rate and could provide a ridiculously positive and life-changing result. To proceed and be tested was the easiest decision I’ve ever made.
In the next few months I was kindly led through the series of tests, confirming a tissue match to Conley and healthy enough to meet all of the requirements to be a donor. Jeffrey Campsen, M.D., transplant surgeon and surgical director of pancreas transplantation at University of Utah Hospital, told me, ‘Denise, there are people born to be donors and you are one of them.’ Perhaps the best compliment I have ever received. During this time I established “Climbing 4 Conley”, my own campaign to share my personal experience during this process, spread awareness and fundraise for the Children’s Organ Transplant Association. Conley & I had our successful transplant surgery on January 10th, 2014 and I have no regret. Definitely the best and most rewarding project I’ve ever been a part of!
Certainly nobody needs a series of events like mine to consider living donation. In the grand scheme of things, this was all shockingly easy! Yes, this ‘elective’ procedure has risks as any surgery will have, but look at it this way: cosmetic surgery and even giving birth are also elective procedures with associated risk, but they seem to be widely accepted and commonplace. It is my plea perhaps my eventual legacy, to remove the negative “crazy” stigma and the voodoo-esque like perception of living kidney donation. I cannot express enough that this experience has made me a better person and more importantly, has given Conley an opportunity for a better life. I am not unique - many, many more ‘ born to be donors’ are out there just waiting to be discovered.
Imagine a world with no waitlists and living kidney donation was commonplace. Seriously, it wouldn’t take much, just some education, a willingness to ditch fear and embrace a different perspective. It’s a beautiful thing and the right solution.
To find out more about living donation, please visit: healthcare.utah.edu/transplant