My Friend Donated Her Kidney to a Complete Stranger

I was not OK with it. A lesson is loving.

I broke down when I saw her in a hospital bed wearing the hospital gown. It was just a picture because we live three thousand miles away now. She wasn’t wearing any makeup, getting ready to head into surgery with a smile on her face.

I sat at my kitchen table, put my phone down, and the tears rolled down my face. I was scared, and my heart pounded out of my chest. My friend, she seemed joyous and fine. I was not. She said we could Facetime, but I couldn’t be a rock for her at that moment. I was a mess, and it wasn’t her job to make me feel better.

She would have, though, because that’s the kind of person she is- making me feel better about her surgery. She needed her supporters, shiny smiling friends wearing green in support of organ transplant. Telling her “You got this,” taking beautiful pictures for social media with green heart emojis.

We met eight years ago, when I hired her to be a babysitter for my son. My son has severe disabilities. He’s unique, and challenging beyond measure. I write about him here .

She came to the interview not wearing shoes. Our only connection, rather, the only reason I interviewed her at all was because we both went to the same college. I literally hired her on the spot. It was that quirky personality trait, not wearing shoes, mixed with just the right amount of something great. I didn’t know what it was, but it was great.

She became my friend over the years, a trusted confidant, and able caretaker for my son. One of only a handful we’ve been able to find to take care of him. She fit into our family. We went to her wedding, and I held her first newborn son hours after he was born.

I love her in all the ways you can love a friend. Three years ago I moved across the country. She cleaned my apartment for me as I drove the moving van away. Facetime became our method of communication. I miss her every day. She’s a sparkle of positive. An honestly authentic human being. A ray of beauty.

Anna, her name is Anna.

She became a wife, then a mother to two boys, then a foster mother, and a potential adoptive mother. She has three children five and under. She is generous, and kind. Generous with her time, her love, and her cooking and make up techniques. I don’t know what she loves about me, I’m really not worthy.

A few months ago she told me she was donating her kidney to someone she didn’t know. She responded to a call to action. Someone she knew from college was looking for a kidney donor for one of their relatives. Someone she didn’t know. She probably thought it didn’t hurt to see if she was a match. Then, she was a match.

It seemed so simple, really, for Anna. She had an extra kidney, someone needed a kidney. She answered the call to donate. Friends and family flocked to tell her that living donation is a generous gift, a loving experience.

They assured her, “You got this”

So many people prayed for her. An entire school wore the color green in her honor, the color green to signify organ transplant.

I’m an organ donor, ya know, when I die. I put it right there on my license. When she told me she was going to make a living donation, I responded by agreeing she was the type of person to donate an organ. I tried to be supportive.

I guess I am selfish, or protective because I immediately didn’t want her to do it. I never told her, of course, so she’ll be surprised when she reads this article. I want to say, I supported her choice. I was just against it. Totally against it.

It’s surgery. It’s dangerous. Anna has three small children counting on their mother. Anna has responsibilities. She can’t just go wild giving away her organs. What if she needs it, later, what if her child needs a kidney. What if she dies.

I cried out in despair- NO! I’m not OK with it. I’m not alright.

Anna would answer my worries so calmly. She’d tell me not to worry, another stranger would step in and donate what she needed. A karma, of organs. I’d assure her the world isn’t that kind. She’d just blow me off.

I gave away a washer and dryer once, and received a nicer set for free a year later. So, kinda the same idea.

Selfishly, I wasn’t thinking about the family receiving the kidney. People were praying for them already, I justified. I am sure they are wishing that their loved one’s body accepts Anna’s kidney. I just assume it will work out fine because Anna’s organs are just as special as Anna. They have magical powers.

I was angry, not at Anna for donating her kidney, but for the fact that she was the one donating. Can’t someone else do it, I thought. Anyone else? Is there anyone else?

My father died waiting for a lung transplant. We were waiting for someone to die, someone with healthy young lungs to donate. A family’s grief and tragedy was made less by their gift to my dad. I understand the desperation and grief the kidney recipient’s family must be feeling. The hope that this kidney, Anna’s kidney, will bring their loved one a longer life.

I just love Anna, and seeing her in a hospital bed was a deal breaker. Maybe because I’ve lost so much, the grief of watching both parents die, that I could not selfishly see my sweet friend hurting. I can’t see Anna in pain. It breaks my heart.

I can’t lose my friend. She’s important to me, and integral part of my existence. I know she’s doing this amazing thing, but I’m really having a hard time understanding it. It reveals much about me I’m not comfortable living with- my lack of generosity about giving away my organs.

Anna is so generous. She gives so much away so freely. So cavalier about it. It’s nothing to give away so much of herself, and never lose her sense of self. Anna knows when to say no of her time, too. She would literally give away her kidney simply because she could- like it fit so wonderfully into her schedule.

I talked to her the night before her surgery. She was playing music in her hospital room. She told me she was at peace. She was calm, and happy.

Personally, I was terrible. I couldn’t sleep all night. I thought, if Anna isn’t going to worry, then I will. I am sure her mother and husband were worrying, too. Still, Anna was cool and collected. Ready to go. Praying for the recipient’s family.

Of course she would, she even gives away her prayers.

I am blessed to have my friend Anna, someone so kind and generous. Someone so good in a world so evil. She has a giant heart, and it’s what I love about her the most. She lives intentionally, and practices what she believes. She doesn’t just wish a better world, she’s a part of the magic to make it better.

She is recovering from surgery. She’s a thumbs up, and one kidney short.

I’m glad I live far away, because I don’t like seeing her in pain. It’s crushing, even when she’s doing a good deed. I need her here, on earth, to do more good. It’s selfish to only think of myself, but I’m being selfish. It’s very much “I” need Anna, without any other thought. Anna needs to be here for “me.”

Anna understands, though, that pain is a part of life. To love someone so unabashedly means knowing that there will be hard times. Times of pain and loss, and unexpected sadness. Part of loving is accepting the hard times, the unknowing of how long joy will last, grateful for the wonderful moments. Grateful to be able to love at all.

I wear a layer of invisible protection. I don’t let people see my vulnerability. It’s uncomfortable, but it also keeps me from getting close to people. Anna doesn’t have this protection. She’s happily just herself, open and raw.

In making a living donation Anna taught me the limitless possibilities of love, and faith.

When she reads this I want her to know what she did was heroic, and I love her, and that’s enough living donation for a while, OK? I can’t handle it.

Joy Ellen Sauter is a freelance writer living in Seattle, Washington with her partner, Nathan, two teenage boys, and two cuddly pit bulls. She writes about parenting, mental health, popular culture, history, disability, trauma, the foster care system, and human rights. She is the Editor of TURNED UP, a publication about Cultural Theory. Joy’s work has appeared in Mamamia, and Scary Mommy, and YourTango.

Writer and Activist. Editor @TURNED UP & @aninjusticemag She/Her Contact: joyellensauter@gmail.com

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