Sep 22, 2022
In the 2017 presentation at TEDxCollinwood, Sue Volpe recounts her journey where she donated her kidney to a life long friend that had Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). Below is the transcript of her talk.
So when I was 22 I decided to ditch my plans for Law School and check out the entertainment industry I just needed to know if it was for me so I left school said goodbye to my family in small town Sault Ste Marie Canada.
Yes, they were having a heart attack and bought a one-way ticket to LA. I didn't know anyone but I didn't care. I knew it's what I needed to do that's where I met the Caesar Family. I was hired by a nanny agency to do babysitting work for them we clicked immediately I just fell in love with them they became my la family if I ever needed anything I called them and trust me their phone rang I was just a kid right and broke and alone.
Fast-forward 22 years later I spent 11 of those years in LA then spent a few years in Victoria BC and then settled into beautiful Collingwood Ontario. Life has moved on. Marriage, children, divorce--the Caesar’s and I always kept in touch they were a part of my tribe but you know how it is. We could go years without seeing each other or even talking but no matter what there was always that connection and I knew we were always there for each other.
Last year January 27, 2016 I saw a post on Facebook from Andy the husband he was pleading for his wife's life. Randy had a genetic kidney disease the very same one that kills her father when she was only 2. Now both of her kidneys were failing and she needed a new kidney. The doctors at UCLA told her she had one month to a year to find one that had been three months prior. Because it was a genetic disease nobody in her family qualified and her husband was on medication so he couldn't help.
My God, like my heart sank.
I had no idea time was running out and Randy was dying I needed to help her. I knew I could. In my mind I knew I was the person to do this. I had spent my entire life taking excellent care of my health in my body. What better way to make use of that? So, right away, I called up Andy. And I'm like Andy, oh my God why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you ask me? and he was like um what like yeah of course, I've got to she can have one of mine. So, he referred me to the UCLA website where I had to officially applied to be a donor be assigned a coordinator and then begin the process of determining if I was eligible.
Only 17% of all people who apply to be donors actually get accepted. So, while I was waiting to hear back from my coordinator, I spent hours and days doing as much research and learning as much as I could.
Yes, I wanted this to happen but it also had to be good for me, my kids in my life. So, as I had expected, if you're healthy and they only accept extraordinarily healthy people you can live a very happy healthy and long life with only one kidney.
As a matter of fact, most kidney donors live longer than the average population. Maybe it's because we're healthier in the first place. Or maybe it's because doing something good makes you happier therefore live longer.
So, I really trusted UCLA. They had a great world-renowned reputation I felt safe with them. So, my decision was made up as long as my family was ok with this.
I was going to do it so I proceeded to share my decision with the people I love. You know, giving them as much information I could. Putting them or their minds at ease. Making sure I had their support.
All the people in my life rock. Like truly. Even if they were afraid, they knew I would never make such a big decision on gut feeling alone. Yes, my gut may have prompted this but I substantiated that knowing with thorough research caring and a highly competent team of medical professionals.
So, the first round of tests came back. Yes, we were a match. I couldn't believe it. Of course, I knew it was going to happen but I was so excited Randy was going to get my kidney and then she would be healthy again may be healthier than ever.
We would be like sisters. In fact, we were such a match as close as sisters the only way we could have been closer as if we were twins. I know, pretty cool.
I do want to point out though that I had already decided that even if I wasn't a match I would still give one of my kidneys. So that Randy would have one they have what's called a paired kidney exchange program. Basically, it’s like an organ pool where I give my kidney. Whoever that matches they get and then Randy gets one. So, it's pretty cool.
Okay, so enter May 11 2016 5 a.m. UCLA Medical Center. Two of the strongest and most competent medical teams in all of North America –surgical teams in all of North America; two patients who had travelled a long journey of 22 years alongside and apart from each other soon to be sharing more than an organ. Side-by-side, we were doing it. No part of this day could have happened without every single player playing their part. I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. I knew we would ace this. I would go back to my kids in Canada and Randy would go back to saving people's lives as a cardiac critical care nurse. And we did we aced it. We were rock stars. As a matter of fact, the surgeon who put my kidney into Randy came over after the procedure to introduce himself he said I just have to meet the owner of this superstar kidney.
No, I'm serious. Apparently, it started working before he had even finished putting it in. It was like it just needed to get to work. Yeah, classic Volpe. Yeah, anyway it's really cool.
So, this is our Kidney.
I asked them to video the procedure or to let me watch it live but I asked too late. Next time. So, I got home. I was only in the hospital for two nights and Randy was there for about six or seven. Here we are the day she got home from the hospital.
Less than three and a half months earlier, I heard my friend was going to die. But we didn't let that happen. We all came together and made this happen. Instead, now Randy is working long 12-hour shifts as a nurse at a hospital walking five miles a day and doing yoga.
Truly amazing what I have learned from this entire experience is we need each other.
Randy needed me. Her family; her friends and the entire surgical team could not have done this without me. I was one small but necessary part of this much bigger machine.
So, I'm not here to say you should go out and donate a kidney. Of course, if you can and you want to. Go for it! Like it'll change your life forever.
But what I am saying is there are tons of things that we can be doing and we can be sharing the point is we cannot do this alone. On a micro and a macro level, we have gone too far on insisting on this independence. It's like this hyper-independence from infancy to elderly. We've become obsessed with it and it's a faulty system even when we try to force independence. Our natural need; our natural desire; and our natural wiring drives us to come together. According to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History coming together is what has supported us over millions of years to withstand and survive challenges and life-threatening situations.
Maybe that's why I had a second healthy kidney so I can ensure Randy's survival and therefore, ensure the survival of her future patients.
We all have something that someone else does not have. Something that can support our tribe. If we choose to, you know, maybe you. You live next to an overwhelmed single parent and you can offer to mow her lawn for a day or for the season.
You know, maybe, you can make some homemade meals or share your leftovers with someone who is elderly or alone. You know, maybe, you’ve got an extra room in your house to rent out to accommodate this rental shortage.
Hey if you'd like to walk dogs, offer to walk your friend’s dog. You know, there are so many things we can do. These things may not seem like big things to you because you have them but for the person who doesn't they are huge.
What do you have two of that maybe you don't need but someone else does? What can you share starting today? If you're lucky maybe you too can be one small but very necessary part of a much bigger magical machine. I hope so.
Sue Volpe – founder/owner of “Untangled Living” (manufacturer of children’s green and healthy living products, and “Naked with Sue” a resource for inspiring and supporting Female Entrepreneurs. Sue Volpe is an entrepreneur and life enthusiast. She has been one of many things in her life but the common thread among them all has been her powerful ability to connect with people and ensure they know they have unique skills to bring to this world – and a responsibility to share these gifts with the world. Sue studied Business and Communications at the University of Ottawa and at 22 years-old found herself Los Angeles bound. Sue was determined to learn as much as she could about business, the media world, natural health and the adventures of life – pursuing all of it with passion and gusto. This road lead to several years of entrepreneurial experience in manufacturing, design, entertainment, natural health, green living speaking, writing, consulting and advocating for the things she feels passionate about. Sue is currently living in beautiful Collingwood, ON Canada. Her area of focus now is health; the health of our families, communities and our entire planet. Her message is, to bring awareness, enthusiasm, light and leadership to the people of our planet. By helping each of us bring our own gifts forward to create a better place for all.
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