Monday, August 19, 2013

CHOOSE LIFE -by Michelle Guardino

Special reunion at pre-op appointment

I went to make a comment on the GTD Facebook page in response to the post about my recent kidney transplant story and realized I had a little more to say than just a quick comment. I began to reflect on how the message of Go the Distance applies to the experience I had when going through this amazing journey. The message about stepping outside your comfort zone and pushing yourself to do something you didn’t even know you were capable of accomplishing. Answering the question of How Far Would You Go? It wasn’t the money that we raised that made Go the Distance such an inspiring event that touched so many peoples hearts, it was about making a difference!!!!

Go the Distance started with Greg seeing a need for funding and the more educated he became, the more passionate he became. It was his sincerity and passion for wanting to make a difference that moved an entire community. The same thing happened when I found out that Lance needed a kidney and by having type O blood, I could be a potential match. Up until then, it really wasn’t something on my radar. In fact, I had even wished Lance good luck in finding a kidney when his previous kidney failed. But once it was on my radar, it wasn’t something I could ignore. Once I started looking into it, the more I learned, the more passionate I became about wanting to make a difference for him. I learned so much about kidneys and transplants and dialysis. The most important thing I learned is that I really only needed one kidney, and could live a totally normal life with just one. So how could I not give one to Lance!?!?!? I went through a battery of tests to make sure that I was healthy enough to donate a kidney and to make sure that I was a match for Lance. I even passed a psych evaluation! : )

Speaking of crazy….I used to think that Greg was a little bit crazy for running 100 miles, then 128.75 miles, then 135 miles thru Death Valley. He has said that a little bit of physical pain was a small price to pay for the satisfaction that attaining your goal brought. I thought I got that….but now I can honestly say that I TOTALLY get it! I know some people think that I am a little bit crazy… but the small amount of physical pain was nothing compared to the enormous amount of joy and fulfillment that I got out of this incredible experience!!!!! I have been asked if I can feel a void where my kidney used to be. I can’t, I am pretty sure that my overflowing heart has easily filled that place, and then some!

Lance and his three Angels
 Besides an overflowing heart, I also got a new family out of the deal! I can never put into words the feeling of having his mom hug me and tell me there were no words to thank me for saving her son. As we both stood there hugging and crying I told her that none were needed, I was a mom! His mom, Diana, and sister, Tiffany, had already been kidney donors for Lance. Lance has battled this since Junior High School. Again, there are no words to convey my respect and awe and love for him and what he has been through. He has endured more than his share of medical issues but through it all his big giant heart, incredible courage, and amazing character have shined through!!!! An example of that was during our pre op appointment when the doctor told Lance that it was going to be a tricky surgery and then asked him if he still wanted to do it. Lance’s answer was, “I choose life, I have to live at least one more day than my mother!”

 I marvel in how all of the stars had to align in order for this miracle to take place. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. Just like in running…where you start by running a mile, then you run a 5K, then a 10K, then a half marathon, then a marathon, then a 50 miler, then 100 miles, and then 135 miles! You just keep pushing yourself to see how far you can go. It is a progression! A wise person even said you will never know how far you can go until you are willing to risk going too far! To Challenge the Impossible! To step outside your comfort zone!!! The Go the Distance message applies to so much more than running. I had a bad experience as a teenager giving blood so I was afraid to do it. My son, Justin, was having a hard time mentally getting ready for a wrestling tournament. The KCRA Blood Drive happened to be going on that weekend and was all over the news. Justin and I talked about the message from GTD and stepping outside of our comfort zones. I told him that if he cowboyed up and tried at the tournament that I would do the same and go give blood. He won the tournament and I went and gave blood that following Monday. And guess what, it wasn’t that bad and I started giving blood every 8 weeks. While I was in giving blood, I became educated about being on the Bone Marrow Registry. That was outside my comfort zone but I signed up. Then one day I got a call saying that I was a match for a 17 year old boy and was asked if I was willing to go forward in the process to be a donor for him. How could I not!?!?!? So far I have not been called on to donate for him but I hope it gives him and his parents some peace of mind to know that if he ever needs it, there is a match and someone willing to donate for him!!!! The idea of giving up a kidney was definitely way outside my comfort zone, until I became educated about being a donor and what it meant for Lance! If I had not gone through the progression of giving blood and being a Bone Marrow match, I am not sure I would have been in a place to even entertain the idea of being a kidney donor. If I had not been involved with Go the Distance and didn’t totally believe in the message, I am not sure I would have had the courage to take those steps outside my comfort zone!

People have been shocked to find out that I was donating my kidney to a high school friend that I hadn’t seen in a pretty long time. There are people in your life that will always stand out as special and who you have an exceptional connection and bond. Lance is one of those friends and time could never change that. I told Lance that I have learned so much during this process and with that knowledge comes a passion, there is no way I can NOT be an advocate. I hope that by sharing my experience with others it will inspire them to get educated on donating blood, or being on the Bone Marrow Registry, or getting a pink donor dot on their drivers’ license. And once they get educated, I hope they can no longer NOT take action! I hope they too choose to make a difference!! That being said I would like to share a little bit about Lance’s story and what I have learned along the way because it is such an integral part of the story I am sharing about my journey.

Moments before we were wheeled off to surgery
I am not sure why I fought getting a Facebook page but I am so glad that I gave in. It allowed me to reconnect with Lance. It was the beginning of the stars coming into alignment. We had become FB friends and exchanged a few messages and he had tried to call me but I couldn’t answer because I was on my way to the hospital with Justin who had just dislocated and broken his elbow at a wrestling tournament. A few days later I was shocked to see a picture of Lance on FB in ICU recovering from heart surgery! I learned that his heart surgery was a result of his kidney disease and dialysis. I learned that Lance’s kidney disease was a result of a bout with Spinal Meningitis in Junior High. I learned that he had been on dialysis for two years before agreeing to accept his sister’s kidney. I asked him why he finally agreed to it after fighting it for so long, his answer was that he “chose to live.” Every time he went to dialysis, someone didn’t come back. That kidney lasted for 5 years. When it failed he went back on dialysis for two years before agreeing to accept his mother’s kidney. Again, as hard as it was for him to put his mother through surgery, he “chose to live.” That kidney lasted for 19 years, 3 months. It was then that I wished Lance luck in finding a kidney. Lance had been back on dialysis for about 7 months when he posted a need for a kidney on FB from someone with type O blood and a link to a website to better understand transplantation. Knowing Lance, I know that was not an easy post for him to make. But once again, he “chose life.” I clicked on the link and began to get educated….and the stars began to align even more!!!

Post surgery recovery popsicle
Knowledge is power! I wish I could share everything that I have learned with you but I will try to hit some of the stand out things. I guess the first thing is that whatever causes your kidney to fail in the first place will continue to attack your new kidney, creating a need for multiple transplants over a course of someone’s life. I learned that people die every day because of a shortage of donations. Every month more than 2,000 new names are added to the national list for organ transplants, and about 18 people die every day while waiting for an organ transplant. I learned that if everyone who could be a deceased donor registered, there wouldn’t be a waiting list. Every deceased donor has the potential to save 8 lives and heal 50 more! I learned that Lance’s projected time on that waiting list was about 8 years. Being type O is a much harder match to find. I learned that he wouldn’t live 8 years. I had thought that someone could be on dialysis forever. I have learned that isn’t the case and what a toll dialysis takes on your body. Lance was going to dialysis 3 times a week for 4 and half hours. Every time he chose to go, he “chose life.” I learned that during dialysis your blood pressure drops and you cramp really badly, it is not an easy thing!!! I learned that your kidney does so much more than just filter your blood. It produces urine, so if you don’t have a functioning kidney, you don’t produce urine. All of that fluid and all of those toxins stay in your body until your next dialysis treatment!!!! Every day the kidney’s process about 200 quarts of blood and sift out 2 quarts of waste products and extra water. If the kidneys don’t remove the waste and water they build up in the blood and damage the body!!! In addition to removing wastes, kidneys release three important hormones: EPO, which stimulates bone marrow to make red blood cells, rennin, which regulates blood pressure, and calcitriol, which helps maintain calcium for bones for normal chemical balance in the body!

Lance “chooses to live” every day of his life! The love from his girlfriend Linda, his family, and his friends support him in that choice every day! I have been friends with and loved Lance for over 30 years, but in a very short amount of time, I came to love his mom Diana, sister Tiffany, and girlfriend Linda! My new family! We will share a special bond the rest of our lives!!! Every test that Lance and I took over the past 6 months that came back saying we could move ahead in the process were stars moving into place so that on August 2, 2013 they were all in alignment for the miracle of life to happen!!! Not a day will go by for the rest of my life that I will not be thankful for that miracle and pray for the stars to remain in alignment for Lance!!!

I am proud and honored and forever changed in such a good way to be a small part of that miracle! I am also proud of my son, Jared, who when he turned 16 chose to be an organ and tissue donor and proudly sports a pink dot on his driver’s license! And when Del Oro High School had a blood drive at school I was prepared to try to convince him to donate blood, but I didn’t have to, he came home with a permission slip for me to sign so that he could donate! And he proudly wears his “Every Drop Counts” t-shirt!

Speaking of t-shirts…..the one that I am holding in the picture with Lance is incredibly meaningful. It is an example of Lance pushing himself to do something he didn’t know he was capable of doing. In his previous surgeries he didn’t get up and walk for a long time….but this time, in order to earn that shirt for me, he got up and walked a cumulative mile in 10 days!!! What a stud!!!! How fitting that it was the first mile of the rest of his life! A life free of dialysis, a life free to travel, a life free to live!! Every day Lance shows JUST HOW FAR HE WILL GO to live and to make a difference! He makes a difference to so many! I can’t even begin to tell you how many cards and messages I have received from people thanking me for saving Lance because they couldn’t imagine life without his friendship! I am one of those people! Love you LDW!

How far would you go to make a difference?