I have. For several years, I'm embarrassed to admit.
My second birthday, that is.
Anyone who has received the miracle of a kidney transplant, or donated one of his or her organs so that a fellow human being might live, knows exactly what I'm talking about.
Sunday, November 18, marked the seventh anniversary of my kidney transplant at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. My second birthday. Because when I remember how miserably sick I was suffering from Stage IV kidney failure, how dependent I was on the short leash of dialysis, and how my entire body, mind and spirit seemed to gulp from the Fountain of Youth after my surgery scars healed, for me the transplant really was like being born again.
My amazing wife Karen – or "Bewee," for "BestWifeEver," as she is widely known online – was my absolute rock through more than two years of daily dialysis, medical tests and consultations, depression, weakness and disappointments. Together we decided to name my lifesaving new arrival Cheyenne, in part after the donor, in part because my transplant felt like the hero who arrives to save the day in one of those old-time Westerns.
|Bewee and Me, Moments After Awaking With Cheyenne.|
My kidney came from a six-year-old girl – yes, you read that right – who went to school one day completely healthy, suffered a brain aneurysm on the playground and died on the spot. I can't begin to comprehend the depth of heartbreak, disbelief and devastation her parents must have felt during that time. Yet somehow they mustered the courage and selflessness to ask themselves, "How can our child's brief life benefit others' lives?"
I am beyond thankful that they did. Because not only was her kidney a perfect match for me (your ideal genetic match is not always within your family, contrary to conventional thinking), but thanks to the God-given marvel that is the human body, over the course of a year or so her tiny kidney increased in size within me to accommodate the needs of my (much) larger frame.
Cheyenne not only prolonged my life, she renewed my faith.
However, just as time heals all wounds, it also fades difficult memories, especially when the good times feel so good.
For the first few years post-transplant I viewed 11/18/11 as the most important day of my life, more important even than my actual birthday. (June 15, in case you want to circle your calendar). But year after year of outstanding medical reports –– my creatinine level currently stands at 0.9, a boast only other kidney people truly appreciate –– reductions in my medications, a totally unrestricted diet and an overall sense of well-being could have lulled me into thinking I was a normal healthy person.
In which case I would be a fool.
If that really were the case, would I still be taking two types of anti-rejection pills every single day, or still be required to have my blood drawn every month to check on my kidney function? Would Cheyenne continue to kick or ache every so often, just to remind me she's not original equipment? (Hey, she's only 13, and adopted; she's at that rebellious, awkward age.)
I'm thinking not.
Yet on one recent Nov. 18, I received a four-word text message from Bewee that sent chills through my body.
It simply read, "Happy Transplant Day, Darling!"
It shocked me, because I had completely forgotten about it.
Does this mean I've become complacent? Uncaring? Ungrateful?
No. I like to think it means just the opposite.
In my view, I have been given a seven-year extension (and counting) on this amazing experience called life. I know that by all rights I should not be here, and every morning when my feet hit the floor I am thankful for one more day. Before my kidney disease and transplant, my focus on every day was never that sharp. That was when I was taking life for granted.
And as I weave through the renal community, attending board meetings for The Renal Network ESRD Network 10, representing the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois, volunteering for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White's "Life Goes On" initiative, visiting dialysis clinics, talking to kidney patients who are struggling on dialysis or post-transplant, I believe God is using me and my communication skills to offer information and encouragement to others. I guess I've become an advocate.
I'm a living example of what standing on the other side looks like. And I'm determined to remain active in that role for as long as He lets me.
So it's really not that I forget my transplantiversary. It's that the exact date becomes less important because the commitment is ongoing. I would prefer to celebrate what I'm doing than what has been done to me.
However, the first thing I saw this Nov. 18 was a text message from my dear friend, the internationally known evangelist (currently pastoring a church in my mother's hometown of Stone Mountain, Ga., like that's a coincidence), Richard Allen Farmer.
"Happy Transplant Day," it read. "Seven years ago today you were given a new lease on the building that is your body. I am glad you're alive, so you could be my friend."
Awww. So I couldn't forget this year if I wanted to.
Not one day do I ever take Cheyenne, my beloved little lodger, for granted. She wouldn't let me. However, as in all relationships, it's not enough to just think about how much your beloved means to you. You've got to express it as well.
So Happy Second Birthday and Transplantiversary to you, Cheyenne. To us both.
And many more.