Story by Barbie Moorhouse
Just about everyone loves Christmas. And if you ask, most people will be able to tell you a story about their best Christmas ever. Maybe it was the year that they awoke early on Christmas morning and found a new bike under the tree. Maybe it was the year that they realized that the best thing about Christmas is not what you get….but what you give. It is one of the things I enjoy about this time of year……buying gifts. Not just because I enjoy the toys more than the kids (and I do!), not because I like to spend money, not even because of the Christmas spirit that you see on the faces of people who scurry about trying to find that “perfect gift” for a friend or family member. It is a very personal experience for me as a wander through the store searching for that special something for every person on my list. I spend so much time racking my brain for each one until I can almost visualize the smile on their face when they open their gift on Christmas morning. It is always a challenge, but well worth the effort.
This year is very different for me. Oh, the shopping and gift buying is the same. The feeling that I get when I get home and pull out all the gifts to inspect each one. Even the warm feeling that I get when I say a prayer thanking God for all of the blessings that he has given me each and every day of my life. But one thing is different. With all of the presents wrapped, the tree decorated and the house cleaned and ready for company……one thing is different. I sit in a quiet house and contemplate the greatest gift I will probably ever give…the gift of life.
This past year my brother was diagnosed with a virus that has caused severe damage to his kidneys. It was a blow that didn’t really hit home until we started talking about a transplant. Wow, it was one of those things that only happened to someone else. What would we do now? One day a few months ago he told us that he was coming to the UW hospital in Madison, WI for testing. He said that anyone who wished to be considered a potential donor should come to the hospital for testing at the same time. Our whole family was there, my sister, my Dad, my cousin, my aunt, my sister-in-law and her family……eight of us in all. But what were the chances that we would match? After all, my brother and I are adopted……and from different families. I was born in Seattle, WA. He was born in Chicago, IL. My younger sister was born in Stillwater, MN. Still we went through the testing and hoped for the best. It turned out that my sister and I were both a match. Not a perfect match, but still, a match. Now the tough decision. Who would donate? It was a scary thought, donating an organ. It was extremely difficult for my brother. Understandably. How do you ask someone to give you one of their kidneys? I had made the decision much earlier that I wanted to be the one. Even as we all sat at the hospital before we were tested to find out if we would match, I wanted it to be me. I had no idea what I was in for. As the weeks slowly passed, I spoke to my brother several times a week. His condition worsened. If he did not get a transplant soon, he would have to go on dialysis.
I showed up at the UW Hospital the week of Thanksgiving, my sister by my side, for more testing. Would my kidneys be healthy enough to donate? Would I be healthy enough for surgery? I left the hospital and went home and prayed each day waiting for results. Each time I talked to Louie I could sense the growing anticipation in his voice. He was looking forward to a second chance. And I was looking forward to giving him one. The wait seemed agonizing. When we finally got the results, we were overjoyed. I would be able to donate! The transplant coordinator gave us the date. January 25. My heart sank a little. I had hoped for an earlier date so that Louie could avoid dialysis. But when I got off the phone I was overjoyed…..and overwhelmed. I hugged my husband and shed a few tears. My prayers had been answered….it was going to be me. I excitedly called my brother (or maybe he called me, it’s hard to remember). We discussed the plans and he asked me the usual question “are you sure this is going to be okay with you?” No doubt about it, I would tell him.
Now the preparation began. I wondered what to expect. I thought about what I would need to bring with me to the hospital and how long I would be there. January 25 seemed so far off. I smiled and thought about my brother starting the new year with a new found hope….and excitement. It must be difficult to be sick for so long. I am thankful that I’ve never known.
A week passed and one lazy afternoon just before work the phone rang. It was the hospital calling. “We have a cancellation next week, can you make it in for surgery?” I couldn’t believe my ears! “Yes!” I hung up the phone and ran to my husband to tell him the good news. We were overjoyed. The phone rang again. It was my brother….he was happy too. We would be able to get in before dialysis.
After I hung up the phone I wasn’t sure what to do. All of a sudden I had so much to do in one week. Finish Christmas shopping contact our family and let them know what was happening. But the day before surgery everything else faded into the background. I was packed, the house was clean, our family was on the way. Now it was quiet and everything was in place.
I arrived at the hospital the day before surgery for check in and preparation. Everything went well and I would be going into the operating room at 7:30am. The surgery would take approximately four hours. The last thing I remember was being wheeled out of the elevator. The first thing I remember after surgery was the recovery room. Everything was blurry, but I could hear my brother’s voice. He was asking “where is my sister?” I called out his name and I saw him wave. I waved back and then drifted off to sleep once more. I’m not sure but I must have had a smile on my face. Hours later when I woke up in my room again they told me that my brother was doing great and the kidney had started working immediately. What a relief. I felt so weak, but I was still smiling. In the first 24 hours Louie had lost 18 pounds! His new kidney was working overtime to release the fluid that had been trapped in his body. He was so happy! He thanked me again and again, saying that he couldn’t believe what a great gift I had given him for Christmas.
After all is said and done, I know who really got the greatest gift of all this year…..
It was me.