The Gift of Life

How an organ donor and an expert surgical team saved the author's life.

There are moments in life that define us. These moments are the ones that create “Before” and “After.” This is mine.

On September 3, 2013, while waiting in my endocrinologist’s office, I got the call. It was one of the transplant surgeons from the University of Minnesota telling me that there was a potential donor. He ran through the only information he could give me about my donor: 23 years old, A blood group, five out of six HLA markers match, CMV and EBV negative like me. He then asked, “If the pancreas looks OK, will you accept it?”

“Yes!”

He then went into the other details I needed to know: details such as when I needed to be at the hospital, where I needed to go when I got to the hospital, and so on.

As I got off the phone, I checked my watch: It was 10:45 a.m. I had to wake my spouse up, book a flight from New Jersey to Minneapolis so I could be at the hospital no later than 5:30 p.m. CST, quickly make sure our go bag had everything I needed, and call our families.

And then our flight was delayed.

Of all days I needed our flight to be on time, this day was it! Thankfully, it was only a 30-minute delay, and I still made it to the hospital by 5:35 p.m. 

At 8 p.m., I was wheeled into the OR to receive my gift of life—a gift that saved my life.

I had severe hypoglycemia unawareness, which basically meant that I had no symptoms of low blood sugars. The problem was that I have Type 1 diabetes, and this complication could have killed me—and almost did a number of times. The only cure for hypoglycemia unawareness is a pancreas transplant alone, which not many transplant centers do. Most transplant centers that do any type of pancreas transplant do them either with a kidney transplant or after a kidney transplant. The reason is that the pancreas is a finicky organ that tends not to do well alone. There were none being done in any of the transplant centers within a four-hour drive from my home. So I flew 1,500 miles to a center that does—the experts in pancreas transplants.

This September will mark my six-year anniversary with my donor pancreas. (I named it Iggy). I’ve done better than my transplant team could have ever imagined. (My transplant doctor likes to say four standard deviations above normal.) I’ve been insulin free since September 9, 2013. Of all the things to adjust to after transplant, not having my insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor attached to me 24/7 was the hardest adjustment.

In 2016, I had my older daughter—truly a miracle baby. Without my donor making the decision to check the box to donate organs, my two daughters would not exist. I most likely would not be alive.

I live every day thanking my donor. I strive to be a better person because I know what my life would have looked like without my transplant. My donor, without ever knowing what an impact checking a box on a DMV form would have, changed not only my life but also the lives of my family and community.

For that, thank you is inadequate. The English language does not have words to adequately express how grateful I am for the gift of life given to me.

For more information about organ donation, visit organdonor.gov.

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