Saving a Life: My Kidney Donation Story
Finding out that someone you love is struggling with a chronic condition is life-changing. I will never forget the day two years ago when my sister called to tell me my mother was sick. I immediately left work and got on the first plane to Tallahassee, Fla., to be by my mother’s side. After she was diagnosed with kidney disease, the onset was slow at first, but then she took a turn for the worse. My aunt offered to donate a kidney to her, but due to her own struggles with high blood pressure, she wasn’t a good match. I knew I had to step up and help my mother who always took care of me when I was sick. When I first offered to donate one of my kidneys to her, my mother refused. However, after much convincing and pleading, she finally said yes.
Last year on World Kidney Day, when I was 25 years old, I donated my left kidney to my mother. Donating a kidney was a life-altering experience that I will never forget. Because of the donation, she was able to avoid lengthy dialysis treatments and is now able to live a healthier life.
After we both recovered from the transplant, I was inspired to spread the word about kidney disease prevention and organ donation awareness. These days, I spend my time traveling around the country speaking with patients and individuals who have family members struggling with kidney disease. Often, I find family members have many questions about donating an organ, and are worried about how donation will impact their life. I tell them in my experience, donating a kidney to my mother was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The reality is you only need one kidney to survive. And for most kidney patients, a kidney transplant is a chance for a better life.
Over the past year, I’ve spent time visiting dialysis centers and built friendships with patients who are living with kidney disease. I’ve listened to their struggles with dialysis and medications, and I understand the daily challenges they face with this chronic condition.
In March, I was honored to travel to Capitol Hill to join the American Kidney Fund and patient-advocates from around the country to speak with legislators about some of the challenges that face the kidney community, including kidney transplantation. During my visit I met with the offices of Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Representative Steve Israel (D-NY) to discuss the need to ensure kidney transplant patients have access to immunosuppressive medications.
Kidney transplant patients must take immunosuppressive medications for the rest of their lives in order to keep their immune systems from attacking transplanted organs. Under current law, Medicare only covers these anti-rejection medications for three years following a transplant. After three years, transplant recipients must pay for these drugs out of pocket or through other means. During my meetings, I encouraged my members of Congress to support lifetime Medicare coverage of immunosuppressive medications.
Meeting with my members of Congress was a great experience, but it’s only one step toward improving the lives of kidney patients. Today there are more than 90,000 Americans on the waiting list for a kidney transplant. Organ donation is a huge way to positively impact somebody’s life who is struggling with kidney disease or another chronic condition. If you are interested in organ donation, I encourage you to learn more about the donation process and speak with your doctor. In my experience, donating a kidney to my mother gave her a second chance. I look forward to having my mother in my life for many more years.
April is National Donate Life Month and I encourage everyone to take some time this month to learn about organ donation. By spreading awareness of kidney disease and transplantation, the lives of many patients can be saved.
Anthony Brown of Queens Village, N.Y., is a member of the American Kidney Fund’s Advocacy Network. Anthony travels around the country to speak with kidney patients and their family members about preventive health and kidney donation. In March, he was chosen to participate in the American Kidney Fund’s 5th Annual Kidney Action Day on Capitol Hill to speak with his members of Congress about kidney disease awareness and prevention.