The greatest gift

Published 1:26 pm Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Seasons Greetings. I was thinking about all the money people have spent over the years trying to give gifts to their family, friends, and loved ones this time of year and Im struck by the amount of stuff we get and give. Ive often wondered how much of this stuff is meaningful within a few days of the exchange.

As fate would have it, the answer the question of the meaningfulness of a gift was provided to me by a beautiful young woman whom I met while working out at my neighborhood health club. Id seen Deanna at the club for months, and one day decided to say hello. We got to talking, and I learned that she was back in the gym, lifting weights and doing stretching exercises to recover from having recently had surgery.

Over the next few weeks, we chatted when we saw each other, and I learned about her family and her. To my surprise, her father had started dialysis in 2007 due to a diagnosis of kidney cancer. Her dad was told that to survive he would need a kidney transplant. If you know anything about human organ transplants, its not only extremely invasive surgery, but its often very difficult to find an organ match that will not be rejected by the recipients own body. He was lucky. In late 2008, a match was found, the surgery was done, and he has since recovered. For Deanna and her family, life today is good and things have returned to normal.

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I asked Deanna if she knew anything about the donor, and she said that, Yes, she did. Wanting to know what it must have been like to know both the donor and the recipient, I invited Deanna to talk with me outside of the gym, and to share some of the details that she knew regarding the kidney donor and transplant operation. She agreed to do so, and a few weeks later, we sat down and talked about it.

I asked if she knew how old the donor was at the time of the operation, and Deanna told me the woman was 46, and was almost a perfect tissue match for the donation. It seemed to me to be a bit unusual that Deanna would know anything about the donor, but my best friend happens to be an organ recipient, having received a kidney from his own sister, so its certainly not unheard of, just less usual.

Deanna told me that she and her family had discussed the operation with her dad prior to the donation being arranged. Being a close family, she and her dad had talked about the impact of the surgery on the donor. Her dad was initially somewhat reluctant to accept the donor kidney, because the donor was neither old nor ill. The donor simply wanted to help, and that was a difficult concept for her father to really wrap his mind around at the time.

But Deanna helped her father accept the offer, explaining that for the donor it was an act of love and giving, but for him, if successful, it would mean the difference between remaining on dialysis and a slow death versus living a long, productive life. Her dad took two weeks to think it over, but in the end, chose life.

Deanna told me that for the donor, the decision to give up a kidney was not nearly as difficult, and living with one healthy kidney is not as unusual as most people may believe. I know that if I was that donor, Id be very concerned about the difficult surgery and the outcome, because bad things can happen. But Deanna told me that wasnt the case. The donor simply set an expectation that everything would work out, and placed the entire process in the hands of a very skilled physician and a higher power. Thats obviously not a bad team to have based on the subsequent outcome.

Once something as life altering as giving a body part is done, I wondered if there were any second thoughts, or if Deanna knew whether the donor regretted having agreed to the operation. Again, she told me, No, there were no regrets. It was simply an act of love. In fact, she told me that the donor felt that given the same situation to do all over again, there would be no change of heart, and the same decision to give the kidney would be made.

As we concluded our meeting and my interview, I felt that I had to ask Deanna one more question. How do you know so much about the donor? I asked. Wasnt that an incredible thing to do?

Deanna laughed, and said, No, not really. You see this really was a love story. My dad needed a kidney, and it turned out that I was the perfect match. So for me, it was about giving love and life, and there is no greater gift.

Being speechless, I hugged Deanna, and walked away in complete awe of this special human being.

Until next time, have a very Happy New Year. Be well and prosper.

Ron Kauffman is a Certified Senior Advisor, radio talk show host and an expert on issues of aging and caregiving. He is the author of Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimers Disease, available at, where you can also hear his weekly Podcasts. He can be reached at 561-626-4481 or by email at Senior Lifestyles written by Ron Kauffman