I am just an average guy. I like to laugh, eat good food, spend time with friends, family and anyone who is just good company. I went to public school and did well academically. I got my first job when I was 14 because I wanted a car when I was 16. I got a maroon Corsica. I have neither been married nor had kids. I have two college degrees—neither of which is being used vocationally—and I’m working two jobs to try to get the loans paid off. A year before I graduated with my second degree I was diagnosed with CKD, spent a month in the hospital, and started dialysis immediately. Despite that, I still count myself as average. There is one singular point that has given me pause in writing this thank-you letter: I don't have kids.
Not having kids is what prevents me from understanding the thoughts that might run through a parent's mind. I neither know the love a parent has for their child, nor the depths of sorrow or pain that one must endure with the loss of a child. Being childless prevents me from knowing what you experienced when you let your precious baby's kidneys be given to me. It is that lack of understanding that has kept me from saying, "Thank you! From the bottom of my heart, and my family's hearts—thank you."
I am extremely grateful to you, but I am also so very sorry for your loss. I know nothing I could say would ever be enough. You lost a child; one who had a name, whom you saw briefly, but one you never had the chance to know. I cannot imagine your grief. I am sorry that your baby didn't get to grow up. I am sorry that your precious one won’t learn to ride a bike, perform in a school play, or have that first childhood crush. I am sorry you won’t see your child graduate.
But I am grateful beyond measure. Every day I live is a celebration because of you. For your selfless act, thank you. That you allowed your precious baby to live on in me, thank you. I know nothing will fill that gaping hole in your hearts, nothing can mask that grief, but I hope my sincerest and most heartfelt gratitude gives you at least a little solace. Please know your precious sacrifice is appreciated more than words can say or adequately express.
I am grateful for this unrequested prayer. I didn't and couldn't ask for a transplant because I knew that it would have to come from someone's death. As much as dialysis could be tedious, I didn’t once ask God for a transplant. I wasn't willing to ask for someone's death to make my life a little easier or bearable. Yet you chose to turn your tragedy into a gift, one I will be thankful for as long as I live.
If I could, I would invite you to be a part of my life, to participate in an even greater role than you have already. I’d invite you to celebrate with me in my victories, help me through my defeats, and be there when I need counsel. Every holiday I celebrate with family is because of you. Every birthday I have celebrated since the transplant, I think of you. All four “kidneyversaries” I have observed, you have been at the forefront of my heart and mind. When the day comes for me to get married, I would invite you to celebrate with me. When I have kids of my own, I would like them to know you and what you did for their daddy.
Similarly, I would love to find out more about you and your little one. Was your baby a boy? What was his name? What were your dreams for him? How could I honor him, and you, in my life?
Your love for your baby, I know, will never diminish. Your gift has multiplied that love, touching lives you will never know. “Thank you” will never be enough.
Justin Brinlee, age 34, lives in Reno, Nevada. He received a kidney transplant on February 16, 2013.