My Turn: A thank you to organ donors, the givers of life

For the Monitor
Published: 5/12/2019 12:35:16 AM

I was at Massachusetts General Hospital on April 9 getting a kidney transplant. Returning home, I saw an article in the April 10 Monitor on organ donation. I would like to tell my story to encourage others to give the gift of life.

My donor was a friend I would like to call “Tom.” My issue was an IGA nephropathy, an autoimmune disease that has been killing my kidneys for over 30 years.

For the past two years, I have been on dialysis. Dialysis removes toxins from the blood. It does nothing to correct the many functions of the kidney. I liken it to swirling in the porcelain. Sooner or later, you are going down the drain.

Most dialysis patients die waiting for a kidney.

The first kidney transplant was done in 1955. Physicians have had 70-plus years of experience with this procedure. Poor outcomes occur in about 1% of patients. The donor will undergo major surgery and have a few weeks of downtime while healing.

At Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, they only accept 10% of patients who are willing to donate. Kidneys are harvested from only the healthiest of donors and these people will outlive their peer groups.

My journey in finding a donor may be informative.

The first person I asked was my brother. My personal bout with prostate cancer delayed the procedure and he fell outside the age limitations for donation. Kidneys are now harvested from 75 year olds, but these are very, very healthy individuals.

My second offer was from the wife of a good friend. She was a blood type O, a universal donor. Then there is the issue of tissue typing. One gets three antigens from their mother and three from their dad. The same holds true for the donor. If two of the 12 are a mismatch, the kidney will be rejected.

My donor did not pass her physical. Her creatine, a measure of renal function, was slightly elevated. She was in no danger, but they would not harvest a kidney from her. Job No. 1 in transplants is to protect the donor.

Donor number three was again an exact match. Her 96-year-old dad sad no. If you don’t understand something, you are against it. The take-home message is to explain to loved ones what the risks are.

Donor No. 4 was a blood type A and I am a B. The National Kidney Registry matches donors and recipients. You end up in a pool where your donor donates to a stranger and you receive a kidney from another stranger. This is the usual case due to the difficulty in matching donors with recipients.

My donor gave me my life back.

Dialysis patients are kept anemic. When blood is taken out of the body to filter, it has a tendency to clot. Anemia means less hemoglobin, thinner blood and a reduced chance for clotting. I am a physically active guy – hiking, biking, skiing, working out at the gym and serving as the caretaker for a 230-year-old house, Idledays.

Life at Idledays is not idle: two wood stoves, yard work and painting.

Since the transplant, my hemoglobin levels have returned to normal. More gas in the tank allows me to do the things I love. I cannot thank Tom enough.

Pre- and post-transplant, I received many cards, letters, phone calls and well wishes from a host of friends and acquaintances. I asked Tom how many he received. One, a letter from me expressing my gratitude.

Donors are unsung heroes. As a donor, you will not receive much recognition. However, you will have given the precious gift of life.

Thank you, Tom, and a big thank you to others who have given, tried to give or are thinking of giving.

(James Holder lives in Hopkinton.)

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