March is National Kidney Month, and I am so happy to report that my good friend, Sylvester Baugh, received the kidney that gave him a new lease on life on March 18, 2021. Last year at this very time, I remember looking at him and thinking I needed to prepare myself for his eventual death; I was sure it was imminent. By that point, he had been on dialysis for five years. I tried to give him one of my kidneys, I made passionate appeals on social media for others to donate, but nothing was working.
When my husband died in 1999, he needed a bone marrow transplant for his leukemia. No one in his family was a match, nor were any people in the bone marrow registry. At that time, people had to pay $100 to be tested, and that was a lot to ask. We raised enough money to put 350 people on the bone marrow registry, and still, there was no match for him. In his case, he went with a mismatched family member and didn’t make it. Today, he would likely have lived thanks to medical advances.
African Americans run into this problem a lot. Partly due to the mistrust of the medical profession—rightly so, given their history—a person of color in need of a transplant is less likely to find a match for a variety of reasons (https://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=4&lvlid=27).
I have personal experience with living donors. Sylvester received the kidney of a stranger, a person kind enough to be an organ donor upon his death. His family had to make the decision to take him off life support, which had to be an excruciating decision, but this man’s kidney now lives on in my friend. It is such a bittersweet situation: One man died so another could live.
I would like to invite everyone who is eligible to consider being an organ donor. The way I see it, I won’t be needing my organs anymore. My eyes could help someone see; my heart, liver and kidneys could help someone else live. My bone marrow could be used to save someone’s life. It gives me such a great feeling.
There is also a more courageous option available: It is possible to be a living donor. If you’ve given blood, you have given a living donation. Bone marrow is another. And the surprising thing is that if you are healthy, you can donate one of your two kidneys. Most people wouldn’t even consider this if the person who needed it wasn’t a loved one, and I understand that. People worry they might give their kidney to a stranger or someone else they only know peripherally, and then, what if they, or someone they love, needs a kidney in the future? They wouldn’t have one to provide.
I totally understand those thoughts. I had them myself. I spoke to my adult children about it. While they were worried about my own health, they both told me to go ahead if that’s what I wanted to do. The great news is that the transplant team won’t allow you to provide a kidney unless you are in excellent condition. The battery of tests I went through was extensive, and while I don’t have anything major medically wrong with me, I had three small things that, together, disqualified me. It was a huge disappointment for both of us, but for me, it underscored the likelihood that someone who donated a kidney would likely not need one later in life.
However, even if they did, the medical profession has that covered, too. The hospital where I was being tested, University of Chicago Medical Center, said that if I needed a kidney later in life, I would be placed at the top of the list as an organ donor. That put my mind at ease.
With this being National Kidney Month, I wanted to write this tribute to my friend, Sylvester, for his long journey and his unwavering faith. I was worried he was going to die, but he never doubted that the God he prayed to was going to protect him, even though he suffered through additional issues like rectal bleeding and prostate cancer. He attributes his miraculous transplant to never doubting he would get well, and I can’t argue with him. I watched him steadfastly believe in his eventual health when even the people who loved him had their doubts. Watch for the book he wrote about his transplant journey, Victory in the Wait, coming out soon.
My real reason for writing this blog is to give a shoutout to the generous, caring humans who opt to be organ donors after their death, for the parents who make that decision for their minor children and, particularly, for those courageous, loving people who do it while living.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am ever so grateful and appreciative for your generous sacrifices.