On January 3rd, I became a living kidney donor. Since learning of the donation, people have been effusive with their praise in ways that I find humbling, but mostly that I find incredibly uncomfortable. Kidney donation is called heroic, courageous, brave. I myself would have used all these words before, but when talking about other people. There are many days since the donation where I have wondered if it would have been better for me to keep the donation secret. I was the same person the day before the donation as the day after – well almost the same person. I was no more courageous. I was no less fearful. I am just me, less one organ.
However, if being courageous is about overcoming fears, then kidney donation has taught me an essential lesson about what it takes to be courageous. It takes a community.
When I first learned about my recipient’s struggle with Polycystic Kidney Disease and the fact that I was a match, the first person I told was not my husband. It was a member of my Wexner cohort whose husband had donated a kidney to his father the year before. She kindly walked me through what the process had been like for their family, how her husband’s recovery had been and how she had experienced donation as a spouse. From the beginning, it meant everything to me to know that I had someone in my corner who had gone through this exact experience. Her friendship alleviated my fears. Her friendship gave me courage.
Many months later, I finally got the call that I had been cleared for donation and the surgery date was scheduled. It was then that I become overwhelmed. What had I agreed to do? Was this crazy? As I sat down to take a breath, my phone rang. It was another member of my Wexner cohort. He had donated a kidney to his nephew earlier in the year. I picked up the phone and told him what was happening.
“That is wonderful!” he exclaimed, radiating positive energy through the phone. At that moment, I felt that God had made my friend call me at just the moment when I started to be afraid. His friendship gave me courage.
As surgery approached, my fears crept back in. This time it was one of my rabbis who stepped forward. She came up with the idea of a special ceremony to prepare me for the donation. I had never been to a mikveh, but she wrote a special ceremony just for this occasion. I showed up at the mikveh the day before surgery as a raw bundle of nerves. I submerged myself in the holy waters three times, each time reciting a special prayer she wrote for me. Her friendship gave me courage.
I am now two months removed from surgery and it feels like a distant memory already. I have resumed classes for my master’s program, resumed my community involvement, resumed helping my daughter with Girl Scout cookie sales. I will never take another Advil and must make sure to drink two liters of water per day, but otherwise, life has gone forward unchanged.
My gratitude for those who supported me through this process – the three I mentioned here and numerous others such as my husband, my best friend who flew in to take care of my children for a week and others – have taught me that overcoming fear and showing courage can be greatly aided by being surrounded by a community of people providing support, kindness and love.
This is true in many moments in life, both big and small. Think of a friend holding your hand or touching your shoulder to help you overcome a moment of stage fright. Think of the leader that gave you the pep talk before you had to go and lead a difficult conversation. Think of the religious leader grinning from ear to ear as they watch you move through a lifecycle event.
We can mistake courage for an individual act while missing the legions of people behind the scenes. For me, these are my Wexnerites. In the past year, I have quit my job, gone back to school, started a business, given up an organ, designed a curriculum on interfaith relationships and started writing a book. Perhaps some of these actions showed courage. Perhaps others were a bit crazy. But for me, I would have never gotten past my fears without knowing that I had a cohort of amazing friends as my cheerleaders and supporters. Courage can be what is inside you, but equally important for me are the people that are by my side.
In America last year 7,397 people became living organ donors. There are currently over 100,000 people in America waiting for a kidney. For more information about living kidney donation go to https://unos.org/transplant/living-donation/
Get To Know The Author
WHP Alum Alicia Chandler (Detroit 17) serves as General Counsel for the Continuing Care Division of Trinity Health and as President of the Jewish Community Relations Counsel|American Jewish Committee, known as JCRC|AJC.