My husband and I were married on July 2, 2011 in Red Bank, New Jersey. A few months after being married, I found out that I would need a kidney transplant. While this was somewhat of a surprise, it wasn’t something that hadn’t crossed my mind. My Mom was diagnosed with Medullary Cystic Kidney Disease when I was in middle school. She eventually went on to need a kidney transplant. At the time, my Dad was not a match to donate to my Mom, so she went on the UNOS waiting list. Several months of dialysis, she then received a call that there was a kidney for her. My Mom is by far the strongest woman I know. Seeing her strength is what helped me to get through my own transplant.
My symptoms of high blood pressure and rapid elevated kidney function were not the same as my mom’s kidney disease, I had, what our nephrologist called, “Chronic kidney disease.” We then began our trek in January 2012 to getting listed on the UNOS lists at one hospital per state. My Mom, my Dad, my husband and I would make the drive together where they tried to make me laugh and make light of the long car rides. It was at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania where I was getting over 30 vials of blood drawn to prepare for what was ahead when my husband said he wanted to be my donor. We had never even talked about him being a donor. I was shocked and honored that my husband of only a few months was willing to sacrifice his own life to save mine. That was not something that I had never expected of him. I always envisioned waiting like my Mom had done for a kidney from the UNOS list.
A month later, I was driving to work when I received a call from one of the transplant coordinators that my husband was in fact a candidate to be my donor. After all of the tears poured down my face, I was parked in the parking lot of my school and I looked up to find the most beautiful rainbow right in front of me. I knew at that moment that this wasn’t by chance, this was fate. I called my husband to tell him the news and we both breathed a sigh of relief. After many trips from New Jersey to Pennsylvania, we decided that the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania was going to be the place we had our kidney transplant. This was the same hospital with the same team of doctors that my Mom had when she had her transplant. When the doctors all remembered her and her transplant, we knew we weren’t just a number and that we are in good hands.
The morning of our transplants, almost one year after getting married, my Dad, my Mom and my sister came to pick up my husband and me to take us to the hospital. My husband’s parents followed us. It was hard knowing our lives were about to change forever. My husband was called in first to be prepped and have surgery first. I remember going in to see him before his surgery and just sobbing that if he wanted to back out, it was OK and that we could just go home and I would wait for a kidney. He told me no, and that he was doing this for me and for our family. He tried to make me laugh with the silly hairnet he was wearing, but I couldn’t help but cry. My husband was about to sacrifice his life and it was all for me. That is the kind of love that every girl dreams of, but just not quite like this.
As I sat in the waiting room with my Mom on one side and my mother-in-law on the other side of me staring at the screen with updates on where my husband was, those minutes felt like an eternity. They both kept telling me to stop looking at the screen and that everything was going to be fine. Well, they were right. When I went in for surgery, all I asked was to see my husband as soon as it was over. I wanted to make sure he was OK. I woke up in the recovery room and my Mom was standing over me and holding my hand. I asked to see my husband and sure enough, they wheeled my bed over to his where he was awake and waiting to go to his room. I was so relieved to see him and so happy that we were both OK.
The next morning when I woke up, I was on a mission to see my husband. They had put us on opposite sides of the floor so we would get up and go see each other. My mom pushed my IV cart as we slowly walked over to his room. When I got to the doorway, he said “Oh man, you’re up and walking already?” It made me laugh and that was when I felt the pain of the transplant. We joke that he made me laugh so hard it hurt. We spent our first wedding anniversary recovering from our transplant. My husband’s kidney is the greatest gift I will ever receive. He gave me a second chance at life and for that, I will be eternally grateful. He is not only my husband, but he is my best friend, my soul mate (by every definition of the word), and the father to our beautiful son.
feature image Fernanda Nuso via Unsplash