Raj and I met in first grade. We weren’t in the same class, but became friends on the bus ride home from school. That friendship continued to grow as we moved through middle school and high school, sharing many of the same classes. She’s always been a very sweet, smart and caring friend. After high school, I moved away and the two of us lost touch. We met up a couple times in the six years I lived elsewhere around the country or world when I would come home and visit.
Then I moved back home three years ago and reconnected with Raj to find that my childhood friend had been diagnosed with a rare kidney disease 2 years before at the age of 23, had already started dialysis and been placed on the waiting list for a kidney. The cause of her disease is unknown, meaning it was simply bad luck. How unfair! Here she was in her early 20s and she had to be hooked up to a machine for 8 hours every night, had swelling due to medications and the dialysis, had trouble staying warm and more. In other words, her life as she knew it had virtually been placed on hold and now revolved around doctor visits and needing a healthy kidney. I came home from meeting her that day for lunch feeling angry and helpless. But, what could I do? Especially considering we would be a cross-ethnic match, I figured there wasn’t really a chance that I would be a match anyway. I was sure she would get a kidney from someone else. As life would have it, we both got busy and lost touch with each other, only getting together or even talking a few times over the next few years.
In December, Raj posted a Facebook status stating that she may need to have a blood transfusion because her hemoglobin levels were so low. Luckily, it didn’t come to that, but it prompted me to act. Depending on the reason, needing a blood transfusion for a person on dialysis could mean longevity of life in terms of months versus years. In other words, there was a possibility that Raj would not be around the following Christmas. I still didn’t believe there was any chance I would be a match, but the least I could do was find out. I knew that if she were to die without a kidney and I hadn’t even bothered to find out if I were a match, I would regret it for the rest of my life. In January I sent my blood in to be tested fully expecting to hear back that I wasn’t a match.
On Valentine’s Day I received a call from UCSF letting me know I was a match! I was overwhelmed with excitement, disbelief and a huge rush of emotions. The call I made to her after that was the most emotional and best call I’ve ever made in my entire life. Barring any medical findings, I was going to be able to give her my kidney! After a series of medical tests and exams, on April 24th I did just that. Both of our surgeries went very well and the transplanted kidney began producing urine immediately. She calls it the “salsa dancing kidney” due to its activeness and my love of salsa dancing.
Within the first week she lost around 25 pounds as the extra fluid she retained from dialysis came off. We are now 7 weeks post-op and she hasn’t had to take blood pressure medicine for 3 weeks. We are both recovering very well. For Raj, this has been a new start to a life previously put on hold due to her disease. There’s still a long road to full recovery for her, with many visits to UCSF to monitor the kidney closely. But, now at the age of 27 she has a future again to which she can look forward.
I share this story to hopefully inspire some of you to become donors. As the Fresno Bee stated some weeks back, around 7,000 people die in America every year waiting for an organ. It is especially important for minority groups to donate. Cross-ethnic matches happen, as is evident by Raj and I, but they are more uncommon. Donating your organs is a very personal decision, but you have the ability to save a life, either through live donation of a kidney or part of your liver or donating your organs after you die. Without my kidney, Raj could have become one of the 7,000. Whose life could you save?
I still remember that day like it was yesterday. Ever since I was diagnosed I didn’t want to tell anyone of my condition, because for me it was very personal. When my doctor first told me that I had possible kidney failure, I did not want to believe it. This had to be a joke! But life’s not fair, we face challenges on a daily basis. And in this instance, the only thing I could do was fight and not let myself down, as well as my family. I went into depression, I couldn’t comprehend why and how I got this. But I decided it was more important to live my life rather than feeling sorry for myself. Going to the doctors, hearing them repeat the same thing over and over, basically telling me that I had absolutely no chance of a life gets to you. I tried to reach out to friends to lessen the stress of the situation, just to talk about anything other than my disease. You’d think your closest friends would want to be your support. On the contrary, I lost most of my good friends. And the excuses I got were it was better to leave you alone rather than bother you. How funny! I never wanted to be a bother. When I did tell someone, I was greeted more with looks of regret, rather than encouragement. However on that day, on my way to hospital on December 23rd at 6:30 pm, I gave in. I put myself out there knowing I wouldn’t get a response from anyone, but I had to try. And two of my very good friends (the other was my friend Katie Khanna) decided to donate. I couldn’t believe it! I was in shock! After being on dialysis for 4 years, it was finally happening, an end to a long battle. Rachel was chosen because our blood types matched more. And to think that my friend from childhood was now going to be my blood sister! It’s amazing! Beyond words. I hope that the story she shared about her journey to be a donor inspires more individuals to step up and save a life. If it weren’t for people like her, I wouldn’t be alive today. I’ll forever be grateful, to them both.