It was April of 2006; I noticed I had started to swell all over my body. In a matter of weeks I had gained 65 pounds and could barely walk, there was something very wrong. I went to my primary care physician and he referred me to a nephrologist, a doctor who specializes in the study and care of the human kidneys, after a series of tests it was determined I had 14 percent of my kidney function left and would require immediate kidney dialysis for life, characterized as stage 4 end-stage kidney disease. I quipped to the doctor “End as in THE end?” She frowned as was not amused.
I had a hemodialysis fistula surgically constructed in my right arm, veins and arteries fused together to stand the pressure and strain of dialysis 3 times a week for life. I quickly lost 75 pounds in 6 weeks as the fluid was removed slowly each treatment. I suffered greatly, not tolerating the 4-hour sessions and had little to no appetite while not being allowed more than a liter of liquid per day. Rhonda, my wife, asked “Why don’t I get tested to see if we match? It happens sometimes” I rejected the notion as ridiculous and further decided it was too huge a sacrifice. After 2 years of the routine, having seen literally 3 people die as I sat there hooked up to the membrane/filter I was in declining health and not doing well myself.
Anyone who knows Rhonda knows she is well known for her persistence, even to a fault. She implored me to consent to allow her to be tested as a donor, I reluctantly agreed so she would once and for all cease asking me and we could continue to be on the transplant list hoping for a call from Emory University hospital. Imagine my surprise 5 weeks later that she was a perfect match and we could proceed with the yearlong transplant preparation protocol. I was excited at the prospect of being near normal again and yet torn because it could compromise her health. She explained she wanted me to live to see our grandchildren and keep my rightful place as the patriarch of our family. I reluctantly agreed and we started the 11-month journey to dual surgery.
Fast forward to May 5th, 2009. We had each went through rigorous mental and physical testing which we passed each milestone with ease and the day had finally arrived. Neither one of us slept that night; we stayed awake all night and talked in the event something catastrophic happened during the 5-hour procedure. We reminisced, laughed, cried, prayed to live and hoped for the future. We arrived at the hospital, then admitted, sat there an hour and were each prepared for surgery. I woke up 6 hours later and wanted to see Rhonda and get up, feeling great. I saw her later that day and she was feeling awful, in much pain and barely able to move, I immediately had regret for what she had done and for what I had received.
This Cinco de Mayo it will be 8 years since I got the gift of a new life, I take 5 pills a day now to combat organ rejection and feel tremendous. Rhonda had an additional surgery for a twisted bowel that occurred during her surgery and as a result must eat gluten free. On the day after Valentine’s Day what more unselfish act could there be than the gift of life? She gave life to 3 of us: Me and my 2 daughters. Always selfless, always giving to everyone, always upbeat and rarely needy, she is the essence of goodness. I hope every person who reads this has the opportunity to have such a special person in their life, they are rare to know much less marry and share life with, when you are lucky enough to receive any sort of gift for a special occasion remember this story about this one gift that continues to give and know how rare those people are and be glad they exist.