By Taryn Seymour
Dear Recipient of My Left Kidney,
I hope this letter finds you healing well, and on the path to renewed good health. I’ve heard the first year or so of recovery for a recipient can be a long journey and I wish that things go as smoothly as they can. Two months down already!
I don’t know anything about you, other than that you’re in Connecticut (or, at least that’s where your transplant was). I was told that there was a small “chain” of transplants that followed from our transaction, so maybe you have a friend or family member that is going through this physical process with you. I can’t begin to imagine how this whole experience, and the time leading up to it, has felt for you. For me, donating a kidney to you is one of the most profound (and certainly unique) experiences of my life.
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I’m not sure when exactly I decided to see if I would be eligible to donate a kidney — years ago, at least. The timing was never quite right, but every now and then I’d read an article about living donation, or see a show about the hardships of dialysis, or hear an inspiring paired donation story, and remind myself that this is something I knew I’d pursue someday. Then in February, I was driving home from a meeting, and heard Dr. Joshua Mezrich from the Transplant Clinic at the University of Wisconsin Hospital talking on NPR’s “Fresh Air” about his book “When Death Becomes Life” and the experiences on which he based it. The UW Hospital, where Dr. Mezrich practices, is a world-class transplant center that happens to be located less than an hour away from me.
That very weekend I mentioned to my partner that I wanted to donate, logged on to the UW’s website to fill out the preliminary evaluation paperwork, and started doing research. (I also immediately purchased and devoured Dr. Mezrich’s book. Have you read it? It’s wonderful.) After a few more initial phone calls with a transplant coordinator and some additional preliminary assessments, the process began in earnest: Over the next couple of months I visited UW and had extensive evaluations done at the hospital: blood work, urinalyses, EKG, electrocardiogram, chest X-ray, psychological screenings, CT scan, probably others.
This extensive evaluation process was probably the most nerve-racking part of the whole experience because, as my transplant coordinator Leza told me, only 8 to 10 percent of prospective donors are approved, based on the evaluation’s findings. What if they found a tumor when they did the CT scan? Or a defect in my heart? Or, one kidney simply could have been smaller than the other, disqualifying me as a donor. But as we both know, the results came back fine and in April, Leza called and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the moment, or where I was, when she said, “You’re approved.”
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So, I told my partner and began telling family and a few friends, and set my surgery-date window for sometime after July 15. The next couple of months went by very quickly, though for me they were a constant day-and-night internal, intense marination on the upcoming surgery and life thereafter. And then — July 17 arrived, and the surgery happened. By sheer chance, Dr. Mezrich ended up being my surgeon, and as far as I know and experienced, it was uncomplicated. Dr. Mezrich texted my partner a photo of my kidney once it had been removed and also a photo of the little jar it traveled in. I heard in my post-anesthesia haze that it made it from me, at the University of Wisconsin Hospital, to you, in Connecticut, in five hours via motorcade and chartered plane. Amazing.
My recovery went well and I healed quickly. I think the hardest part for me was not being able to pick up my children (my partner and I have a 2- and a 5-year-old), but that part is over now, too. Other things about me: I’m a designer (architectural and interior) who grew up in Upstate New York and now lives in rural southwestern Wisconsin. I enjoy being active, cooking and eating good food, learning, reading, being with friends, family, and also being alone. I have a loving and super-supportive partner and family, without whom I could have never done this, at least not right now.
This entire process, as I mentioned, has been incredibly profound, and I hope will continue into my future through advocacy and involvement somehow with living donation. I am grateful to have been a part of this, and think the entire concept and field of transplant is fascinating. I’d also like to say that I have no expectations from you — please don’t feel that my contacting you obligates or requires a response — that’s not why I wrote, or did any of this. But, I do wish you absolutely the best in your healing journey, and hope my former left kidney is helping you to have a happier and healthier life.
Take good care of yourself, and give that kidney a gentle little pat for me.
All the best,
Editorial postscript: A couple of weeks after Taryn sent this letter to the UW in September, her transplant coordinator said it was in the hands of the correspondence coordinator to be reviewed to preserve Taryn’s anonymity. After her surgery, Taryn was told that usually “no news is good news” — that if the recipient is healing well, the donor’s institution won’t necessarily hear any updates. (If the opposite is true, sometimes they will coordinate to try to figure out what happened). Taryn says: “I haven’t heard anything in regards to the latter, so I’m assuming everything is great.”