In the midst of the amazing joy of my wedding, I also need to take a moment to recognize one of my life’s sorrows. Ten years ago today, less than a month after his 65th birthday and just days after his 42nd wedding anniversary, my father died far too early from complications resulting from Guillain–Barré syndrome.
My father had suffered for years with kidney disease and ongoing painful dialysis.For most of that time he had refused to let any of his family be tested as a possible tissue match, saying he did not want us to have to go through transplant surgery for his sake. He languished on the transplant list for a very long time, with no matching donor to be found. After many years, he finally relented and allowed his family to be tested — a great many of us, from his two surviving children to his siblings, nieces, and nephews, immediately stepped up to be tested. Not through any greater willingness, but merely as a matter of genetics, I turned out to be the closest match. In January 2003, Dad and I were scheduled to enter the hospital for the transplant; two weeks before that day, after all those years, amazingly a cadaveric match was found, and my dad got a new kidney and an amazing new lease on life, no longer tied to a dialysis machine.
Sadly, he only got to enjoy the better part of the year — but believe me, he enjoyed it boldly and unreservedly — before coming down with an extremely rare, likely unrelated, and usually non-fatal creeping paralysis. But Dad’s system was just too weak from the years of kidney disease and the effects of the anti-rejection drugs he was taking, and after being placed in a medically induced coma when the paralysis reached his lungs, he died of cardiac arrest one evening as a hurricane rocked the city around him.
Jeff and my dad never got to meet; Jeff and I had begun dating only a few months earlier, shortly before my dad got sick again. A new relationship can be fragile and difficult enough even under normal conditions, much less in the midst of dealing with a parent’s illness and death. But Jeff stuck by me, comforted me, took care of me, watched over my (later, our) home and my (later, our) cat while I returned to Covington for the funeral. If I hadn’t already known before that Jeff was the man I was going to spend my life with, I certainly knew it after.
I’m registered as an organ donor; I hope someday that my own kidneys and other organs will be able to bring a new lease on life to someone, just like a stranger’s kidney did for my dad.
I urge everyone to sign up as a donor. Give the gift of life.