My Story as a Living Donor

My name is James. I am 58 years old and I see myself as being a down-to-earth person with a scope in life…to be happy and to make others happy in my own simple ways. This is my story…….

Fourteen years ago, Dave, my brother-in-law, was diagnosed with end stage renal failure. For those of you who are not familiar with kidney disease, let me simply say that such patients must spend many hours, three times a week, hooked up on a dialysis machine, to keep them alive. In Malta, there are over 250 such patients. David was one such patient. We did not even share the same blood type and yet we were compatible and our tissue type was a “near perfect match”.

On the 25th February 2004, Dave and I went into surgery for the first unrelated living kidney transplant ever to be performed on this little Island of Malta. For me, this donation was a dream come true… I wanted to give something small from within, I was determined right from the very start. A series of medical tests was scheduled over a number of months to ascertain that the operation would proceed with no major difficulties. With the support of my family, the expertise of our Consultants, the back-up efforts of the Renal Unit and, above all, with the help of The Lord, this kidney transplant was performed.

This was precisely my dream, a dream that came true. I am no hero as many suggested. I am simply a guy who was inspired to share and to give. Yes I feel proud and honoured, I feel good from within and I am grateful to God for having allowed me the opportunity to give up a little something from within me. Such sentiments cannot be fully expressed in words. Life is truly fragile and short but it’s also very precious. Life is more than just living. There are certain events in our lives that bring on a catalyst of change.

This is a story of one of those events which has had an impact on my life and the lives of my family. A simple story but one that has touched the hearts of many. My family, like most others in Malta, is very close-knit. Family is a priority and, in spite of life’s obstacles and difficulties, we remain united…

But what really made me decide to give up a kidney? Well, to begin with, I could not bear to see Dave hooked up to a machine for so many hours every single week, I wanted to improve his quality of life and see him live a life as normal as possible. Dave had undergone so many surgical interventions prior to the operation that his body was quickly deteriorating and I had to put a stop to this. I dreamt of seeing Dave sitting around his family and not in hospital surrounded by tubes and catheters.

My decision to be a living kidney donor was actually one of the easiest I ever made. I broke the news to David during Christmas…. It was a gift from within, a gift of no monetary value, a simple gift but one which was destined to improve my buddy’s lifestyle, and that of his family.

I still remember the intensive tests that we had to go through and the anxieties that we felt before the operation but let me share with you one little experience that will remain in my memory for as long as I live. After the many hours of surgery, David was whisked into the Intensive Therapy Unit and I was taken to my ward. I was still in a haze and under the influence of anaesthesia but I can recall very vividly that when my family greeted me, all I could utter was “What a wonderful feeling”…..a feeling that glows inside of me every single day, a feeling of joy and warmth that is very difficult to explain in words. I was simply elated with joy and this reflected evidently in my smile despite the pain and discomfort. My family gives me reason to live. I rejoice with them in their successes and share the agony of their setbacks.

I have another dream in life…..I dream of a future that will fulfil the goals and aspirations of those closest to me…. my own family, my mum and dad, my three brothers, their wives and also my sister and David. To all of these, I promise my endless support especially when times get tough. One of my objectives in life is to make people smile…. I just love to see others happy and I pray that when my time is up, no matter how many mistakes I’ve done in my life, I will still bring a smile to others when they think of me as James, the simple guy who enjoyed giving and sharing.

Our Transplant coordinator, Mr. Tony Bugeja, was a driving influence throughout the fifteen long months we had to endure before the operation could be performed. I thank Tony for making the process possible, I thank our surgeons for doing an excellent job, I thank the nurses for caring for us after surgery, I thank my parents and indeed all my family for supporting me all the way, I thank my wife Carmen, my two boys and my foster child for standing by me. Also I thank the Lord for giving me the courage to decide to give the gift to share from within. Giving something to somebody and expecting nothing in return is an experience that unites us in a very special way. It is truly a celebration of selfless love, that of giving a core part of oneself to see another benefit from a new lease of life. Undoubtedly the greatest gift of all is that of Love and Life.

Several years have passed since the transplantation. David will always be my kidney buddy and I thank him for being part of my life. Some people still ask me why I did it. The answer is simple…. I did it out of love. Some people ask me how I feel… I feel better than ever before, and if I could, I would do it all over again. To reach out, to make a dream possible, to give from within and to share makes me the happiest guy on this planet.

Alfred, a heart recipient, added heaps of inspiration in my life and through our involvement with the Transplant Support Group, he helped me to reinforce my sentiments about sharing. Like Alfred, I too was dying before going into surgery, dying to give up my kidney as I could not wait to have this dream of mine come true. Life is beautiful. It is much more meaningful when we share and give. Whatever you give today, or think or say or do, will multiply tenfold and then return to you. Think about it, dear colleagues, donor buddies and transplantees, and you will realise that giving and receiving unite us all in a very unique way. God bless you, now and always.