There are a lot of things I don’t like about my body, but up until yesterday morning, my human leukocyte antigens were not one of them. Now they are Personal Enemy No. 1, and I’ve never been so mad at any of my body parts in my whole life.

See, I have a friend who is in renal failure. I asked him if he wanted me to use a pseudonym to write about him, and he requested something “really cool, like Zorro or Batman.” So I’m going to call him Ted – as in Danson, Roosevelt and Lasso. All widely beloved Teds, as is my friend. (Well, maybe not Roosevelt so much, but I promise my friend Ted is neither racist nor land-grabby.)

Ted is 32 and on dialysis. Dialysis is not a cure for kidney failure; it is a stopgap measure. It can keep a patient going for a long time, but not as long as a successful transplant will. Ted has a family who loves him and an 18-month-old son who looks like the Gerber baby, he’s that cute. He is an exemplary husband, father and friend. So, Ted needs a kidney. And I wanted to give him one of mine. But we weren’t a match. The spirit was willing, but the flesh had the wrong antigens. Or something. The science is a little complicated for me; the nurses said our blood “didn’t play nicely together.” So Ted will be a tough kidney to match, which is ironic, because Ted is the sort of guy who gets along with everyone.

Ted works as a CNA, a certified nursing assistant. When my dad entered the hospital for the final time, he stayed there for almost three weeks while waiting for a hospice bed to open up. Ted, whose own father was my father’s best friend, stopped by Dad’s room after his shifts, and if Dad needed anything, Ted would do it. If Dad needed more meds, Ted tracked down a nurse; he helped Dad to the bathroom and repositioned him in bed. He would do this on his own time after spending eight exhausting hours on his feet. (If you have had the bad luck to be in a hospital recently, you’ve probably seen how hard CNAs work.) When my dad needed help, Ted stepped up. Every time. I’ve never forgotten that, and I never will. Now Ted needs help, and I am going to step up in any way I can.

So if “donating a kidney” is on your bucket list, there’s no time like the present! You can go to mmc.donorscreen.org to register your interest; Ted specifically needs blood type B or O (the positive or negative does not matter in this case). And if you’ve been meaning to fill out the forms to become an organ donor in case of death, you can sign up at the Maine Organ Donor Registry online at maine.gov/sos/bmv/donatelife/ or in person at your local Bureau of Motor Vehicles. (I know. We would all prefer to undergo a kidney removal than visit the BMV.)

As for myself, I am going forward with the process to become a living kidney donor, even though I can’t give it to my friend. If I qualify medically, and my bossy blood matches with someone else’s, then I will donate.

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When I started the testing process, I didn’t think I was the type of person who would be willing to give a kidney to a complete stranger. But then one of my primary care providers – shout-out to Elizabeth Berry! – pointed out, “How often do you think about your kidneys?” And I realized that I’d never thought about them much. Never had to. But I imagine if I were in renal failure and on dialysis, a kidney would be the No. 1 issue on my mind.

And then I had meetings with a transplant nurse, a financial coordinator, a social worker, a dietitian and a living-donor advocate. They answered all my stupid questions, like “Can I request a surgeon with small hands?” and “Can I still drink coffee if I only have one kidney?” (The answers were no and yes, respectively.) And I realized that one of the best parts of being an adult is getting to decide what kind of person I want to be. And if I want to be the type of person who donates a kidney, I can just … be that person.

As of November 2020, roughly 90,000 patients nationwide were waiting for a kidney transplant; 206 of them are in Maine. Medical science is making advances every day, but currently and for the foreseeable future, the only source of a human kidney is a human body. The demand is much, much higher than the supply. People die every day waiting for one. If I can prevent that for someone, I will.

When I told Ted I was writing this column, I made sure to mention that while I’m a pretty good writer, I’m not sure if I’m good enough to convince someone to donate a kidney, but that I would try my best. He said that there are a lot of good people out there. That’s certainly been true in my observation. And right now he doesn’t even need a lot of good people. He just needs one.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial


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