Oct 28, 2022
Gifts are an important part of life. Do you like receiving gifts? Well I know that I do; and I like giving them even more; and gifts can give us joy, disappointment at times, surprise and connection; and it's connection through gifts that sometimes change the course of a person's life so the best way I know how to connect you with the gifts and the miracles of living kidney donation is to give you an understanding of the adventure as it unfolded and that adventure began with this picture.
This is a picture of my good friend Timothy Chin and his son Tony in late 2016. Tim had posted on social media that he was in desperate need of a kidney for a son. In seeing this picture of Tony, he's grown now; he's in his early 30s but this picture caught my attention. To see him as a child, it connected with the child in me and I knew his plight. Years of dialysis every other day; four hours a day; a grind; his mobility was limited; sleep was his best friend. If he had a new kidney, he would have a new chance at life; a new beginning.
And my friend Tim was a hero himself. He survived the Khmer Rouge Massacre in Cambodia in the early 1970s, the Killing Fields. They killed nearly two million people. Somehow Tim escaped the execution line and he'd climb more mountains that he could count to his freedom in Thailand; and they came to the United States in 1976.
So what was I willing to do for my friend? Well at first, I was willing to just give a simple blood test. Let me tell you about this blood test; this was like a test of the Emergency Broadcasting System. This is a test. This is only a test.
I really wasn't planning on donating anything or let alone understanding that I could be a potential match for Tony and yet when we sent the blood kit off to the hospital to get tested. Two weeks later I get a call from the hospital and the voice on the other end says “How do you feel about donating your kidney?” which was incredible.
It set off a myriad of emotions inside of me and questions that had no answers. So I really wasn't committed to anything yet. I needed some facts and the first question that I had to ask was, not knowing much about donation at all, was “can you survive the surgery?” And indeed you can. You have a 99.7 % chance of not only surviving the laparoscopic surgery but also thriving afterwards.
And then the larger question comes into play here is, “can you really live a quality life with one kidney?” The answer to that is yes. The remaining kidney inside of your body increases in size and scope and capacity. What was cut to 50%, can grow to even 60 and 70% and for most people that would be two to three times more than they would ever need in their life.
And then another question came, “what would years be cut off on my life if I donate it ?” And the research said life expectancy is essentially the same and surprisingly maybe even slightly higher with one kidney instead of two.
And that was great information that kind of moved me along a little bit. I started feeling a little better about this; and then the fear came and let me tell you it was fierce; and I know enough to know about emotional intelligence to know that I had to feel the fear; I had to invite it in like a friend and sit with it until it had no choice but to leave; and when it did, I got some clarity and also found out about the scope of kidney failure in the United States. There are over 100,000 people on a National Kidney Registry List. waiting on a kidney from either a deceased donor or a living donor. 3,000 people are added to that list each month and on average 13 people will die each day waiting.
So with that information I made a decision about life supporting life. I said yes to Tony; and my friends said yes; and my family said yes and even the fortune cookie said yes. But what's a good kidney donation story without some adversity. One week before I was scheduled to donate directly to Tony. The hospital in New York called and said that they were canceling the surgery; that our kidney structures were just too different and that Tony would experience too many complications both during and after the surgery. We were devastated; and suddenly out of nowhere, Tony's new chance at life; a new beginning for him; they were gone.
I think most people at this point would say, you know, we did the best we could but it just didn't work out but there was still something inside of me. A voice. Let's call it the voice of faith. It said Taylor, it's not over. Dream bigger. So three weeks later I knew what I had to do. I knew when I was willing to gift. I introduced myself to the team, the transplant team at Methodist University Central Hospital in Memphis. I told them what had happened with Tony that it didn't work out and I was still willing to donate to someone else. Give them a new chance and I'll never forget what Dr. Campos told me that day, he said “Taylor, if you become a non-directed donor there's only one way to make this right; one way to make this story whole and that is somehow find a returned kidney for Tony.”
Which for me was like it was an aha moment. Oh it was like catching the Hail Mary pass for a touchdown to win the game. Up until then, I didn't know anything about return kidneys or kidney exchanges. I didn't even know they were possible; but they're not only possible, they're more probable now than ever. So on February 27, 2018, I gifted my kidney to an unknown recipient and through a miracle of miracles was also selected to be the point person for a multiple person kidney exchange where five other people got life-saving kidneys within 72 hours of my donation.
Here's how a kidney exchange works. You may not be a match for your loved one but you can donate a kidney on behalf of your loved one; so that they can get a kidney back in return; and this beautiful exchange and chain just keeps going and going and going. Think of it as a matchmaking service for kidneys and the miracles kept happening. Three months later, Tony got his return kidney.
There are three questions that I had to ask and answer to say yes to living kidney donation:
- The first question was why was I willing to give up a body part that I was using? And the answer for me had to be really simple clear-cut my good friend Timothy Chin, a hero, he needed me.
-The second question, why not me? You have the right and during this process to say no at any time and the medical personnel kept telling me all along this process, “Taylor at any time you don't want to do this you just say no and we all walk right up until the time we give you that double dirty martini that puts you to sleep. Just say the word.” But I just kept finding reasons to say yes.
-The third question, I had to ask and answer was a double sided coin. What did it mean to say yes; and what did it mean to say no. And on the yes side I had to answer the question was I saying yes in order to avoid feeling guilty because regret and guilt are real things. Could I feel my way through that? And I did. And on the no side, could I say no to the Chin family when I was the only option? I decided that I could say no if it substantially affected the quality of my life but that was just not the case.
There is a tremendous power in gifting and a faith in action believing in what you cannot see. Yet what are you willing to gift to someone else? Out of all the things that I learned on this miraculous adventure, the one thing that stands out to me is that people need each other. To make life work and it's our connections both visible and invisible that keep us together.
And on the journey to success, I'm reminded of a Sufi parable that goes like this. Past the seeker, as he prayed, him the crippled the beggar, and the broken. Upon seeing this, he cried, “Master how can a loving God see such things and yet do nothing about them?” And out of a long silence God said, “I did do something. I made you.”
Taylor Tagg is a relationship empowerment coach, best selling author, podcast host, and speaker. As a servant leader, Taylor assists difference makers in becoming a greater version of themselves through life's toughest challenges. Taylor's is a living kidney donor and his happy place is the beach. He lives in Memphis, TN.
This material is for informational purposes only. It does not replace the advice or counsel of a doctor or health care professional. KidneyLuv makes every effort to provide information that is accurate and timely, but makes no guarantee in this regard. You should consult with, and rely only on the advice of, your physician or health care professional.