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First-person perspective

Column: Why I donated my kidney, by reporter Adam Rogan

From the Five stories Adam Rogan wrote in 2019 that made a difference series
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My mom named my kidneys Sidney and Bodidney. Don’t ask why. None of us know.

I just said goodbye to Sidney.

On Thursday morning, I completed a five-month journey of becoming a kidney donor.

It started with a relatively snap decision, confirmed in the lobby of a movie theater while holding a large Pepsi in my hand. Now I’m in a hospital in Madison with five new tiny scars across my belly. (I wrote this column ahead of time, don’t worry. As you’re reading this, I’m probably very tired and in a manageable amount of abdominal pain.)

One of my closest friends immediately made fun of me earlier this year when I told him about my plan. “Why are you giving away your kidney? It’s YOUR kidney!” he joked.

As crass as my friend might be, he has a point. I may not need both kidneys, but it’s really nice having a backup. There’s a reason cars come with a spare tire.

Whenever I see someone pulled over on the side of the road with a flat, I usually don’t help out. But if I knew their life depended on it, and a less than 1% chance I’ll even be substantively harmed in the process, there’s a pretty good chance I’m going to pull over.

Nobody is going to die on my watch, not if I can help it.

I’m still surprised by how shocked people were whenever I told them about my impending kidney donation.

In the U.S. alone, there are about 100,000 people on waiting lists in need of a kidney, with the majority of them having to undergo cumbersome and life-altering dialysis, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Three thousand new names are added every month.

And in 2014, 4,761 people died on the kidney wait list. That same year, another 3,668 Americans became too sick and their names were removed from the wait list — taking their hope for survival with it.

It’s a simple equation. I’ve got two kidneys, I don’t need both, somebody else needs one, sharing is caring, hakuna matata, let’s donate.

My decision was made easier after a UW Health nurse told me that my name or one of my family member’s names will automatically be moved to the top of the waitlist should one of us ever need a kidney, as a sort-of thank you for my donation.

I, like pretty much everyone else, have daydreamed about “saving the day” since I was a kid. I still think about it: about stopping the bad guy, being the jedi, protecting the innocent, laying down one’s life for his friends, etc.

To have those imaginations, but never put any action to those ideas, would make me a hypocrite.

And yet, by donating a kidney, it’s not like I did anything. Yesterday morning, as the doctors poked around my insides, I was dead asleep, pumped full of anesthetic.

They went to school for a lot of years and paid a lot of student loans to be able to save someone’s life; all I did was sign a couple forms and skip work. The Journal Times is even giving me a couple weeks OFF of work to recuperate — thanks Boss.

My own boss, Managing Editor Stephanie Jones, wouldn’t have been born if it weren’t for organ donation. Her dad’s brother gave him a kidney in 1982, and her dad is still kicking 37 years later.

Therese Jackel, the beloved wife of Sports Writer Peter Jackel, received a kidney in 2008, affording her another seven years of life before eventually passing in 2015.

Therese’s photograph still sits next to his desk, smiling down at him. If you look at the right time, you can still catch Pete glancing up at her.

I’m going to die at some point. And considering my hamburger and coffee intake, my heart is going to give up on me long before Bodidney does.

But whoever gets Sidney, they’re receiving a chance.

They might be a 10-year-old kid who doesn’t really even understand why they’re in the hospital. Or maybe a grown woman who will be getting a few years with her spouse and kids. Or just some guy, who was cursed with subpar kidneys who’s never been healthy enough to fully participate in whatever he’s wanted to; now he gets a chance.

But today, they’re finally whole. They don’t know that their new kidney is named Sidney. They don’t know who I am. But today they are alive. And that’s far better than the alternative.

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