Posted by: Leigh Reynolds | March 8, 2012

Listen to the Whisper, Reprise

In January of 2008 I proudly donated my left kidney to a friend. Dean is my recipient and he lives in Phoenix, AZ. I got to know Dean through work – I was coordinating the National Walk for PKD and he was one of our walk coordinators (still is.) And though I no longer work at the PKD Foundation, I still have a small place in my heart reserved just for all those fighting PKD.

Whenever this subject comes up, people want to know how it came about, if we are amazing life-long friends… I guess people expect a dramatic movie script; something amazing that led me to him and inspired me to donate a body part.  But for me it just wasn’t that dramatic – it was a simple moment where God whispered the idea in my ear. I just happened to listen and say yes.

From the first time I met him, I liked Dean. He is a great guy, living a cool life, and he was fun to work with.  It all came about like this – I had been in town for a meeting, he was driving me to the airport and mentioned he was looking for a donor. His partner’s sister was being tested and it looked like she may be his match. This was the first I had heard that his kidney functioning had dropped enough that this was warranted. To see him, you’d never imagine that this young, good-looking, fit man was fighting for his life. Kidney disease is tricky that way – especially Polycystic Kidney Disease.

It was a simple moment. I just thought, “she’s not going to be approved, and I think I it’s supposed to be me.” I didn’t say anything then. We arrived at the airport and I flew home. When I got home, I told my husband about it and he just smiled and said, “I think that’s awesome, honey. Whatever you want to do, I’ll support it.” He was used to supporting a lot of crazy stuff with me, I guess.

A week later I emailed Dean and asked how it was going. He said she had been kicked out in the final round of tests, so his search was back on. I replied that I’d like to be tested. Next was a phone call to his transplant coordinator, then a blood test, then a week in Phoenix for full tests, then – Thanksgiving week – I got the phone call that said I was a match.

It wasn’t until the blood test came back that I told the rest of my family. That was a little trickier than telling my husband.

My mother’s first concern was my health. She asked a lot of “what if?” questions, concerned about future health issues for me. I let her tell my dad, who was equally concerned, but let her ask all the questions. My dad and I were very close and it’s not that he wasn’t interested or concerned. Quite the opposite; I think it was too hard for him to talk about.

My oldest sister was similarly concerned for my well-being, but also instantly supportive. She understood the God-whisper I spoke of. She said, “Leigh, some people go on huge shopping sprees, some do extreme sports, some drink too much… You push back against the unhappiness and stress in your life by doing nice things for other people. Not a bad way to deal with stuff.”

Telling my other sister wasn’t so easy. One of her first questions was if one of the tests was a psych test! Which indeed it was, and I passed – so I am certifiably sane and I have the test results to prove it. Though we got a great laugh out of it, her real concern was what if something went wrong – would I be able to emotionally handle it? We talked it through and I assured her I’d be OK.

Of course, I had to clear it at work. Working for a kidney organization certainly made the request for time of to donate a kidney to a constituent a lot easier for me than for someone else, but I was still pretty nervous about it. They were instantly supportive and said I’d get all the time I needed – even made sure I got my full salary versus the disability pay for the time I was off. I was very blessed. The real challenge came in talking about it. I did not want to tell anyone at work and swore my superiors to secrecy. I didn’t want any other staff members to feel any pressure, to be made to feel the hard work they did every day for kidney patients was somehow “less”. Thankfully, they honored my wishes and allowed me to tell my co-workers when I was ready – the week before I left for the transplant.

January 2008 I flew to Phoenix and checked into Mayo and donated a kidney. A week later I flew home.

Now about 4 years post nephrectomy and I’m healthier than maybe I have ever been. I said farewell to my father in June of 2010 and November 23 of that same year, I gave birth Thomas Wilson, an amazing baby boy weighting 7 pounds and 10 precious ounces. I never had any complications during pregnancy and having just one kidney caused no issues whatsoever, proving once again that a living kidney donor can go on to live a healthy life.

I live a very full life. Together with my husband, I am raising our three kids – one teenager (need I say more?), a very precocious and determined pre-teen daughter, and a joy-filled, busy baby. I work a more-than-full time job, now with a company that specializes in helping a number of charities find their voice and fulfill their mission through events and fundraising. I run a large Outreach Committee at my church and put on an annual Block Party for the underprivileged neighborhood where our church resides; we welcome about 300 visitors each year. I am a lead member of our church Praise Team, which allows me to pursue my passion for singing, for all the right reasons. And I write this blog that is all about throwing some good out into the world. Life is full, and life is blessed, and I try every day to be a blessing.

What I did was really not a big deal in my life at all, though I count it among the greatest blessings in my life – second only to giving birth to my kids and hiking the Grand Canyon. It is hard to put into words, but the feeling of knowing you just did a good thing, wanting nothing in return, can’t be matched. I am not sure of the ripple affects the whole experience had, but I know they are there. I just listened to the voice that said “do it” and then said YES. I took a few weeks time off then went back to my life. The only lasting thing for me is a few small scars on my stomach and a keener ear for the voice in my head that sometimes suggests I do something kind. For me, I believe it is the voice of God, whispering in my ear, giving me an opportunity to be used by Him for something grander than I could ever manufacture on my own.

Sometimes I ignore the whisper. I am sure that sometimes I am making far too much of my own noise to hear it at all. But when I can shut out my voice and listen to His… Wow, what a blessing.

Not everyone is called to donate a kidney, but I believe many more are ready to answer YES, if they were made aware of the need. If more of us answered the call, far fewer lives would be lost to kidney disease. And everyone is called to do something. Everyone has a unique and special thing to throw out into the world and far too many of us ignore that inner voice and miss the opportunity.

So my question for you is “What is He whispering in your ear today? Will you listen and say YES?”

FOOTNOTE: March is National Kidney Awareness Month. If you are thinking about becoming a kidney donor – if you’ve heard that whisper – please say YES.

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