THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO!
After a long and stressful process (about a year, but who’s counting?), my living kidney donor has been approved and I will undergo my lifesaving transplant surgery at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles on March 29.
I suffer from polycystic kidney disease (PKD), a genetic, hereditary disease that ultimately shuts down your kidneys. There is no cure for PKD. A year ago I was listed on the UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) cadaver donor list because I need a kidney transplant in order to survive, and my kidney function had dropped to 14%. At the same time, I was actively seeking a living donor because the wait for a cadaver donor in Southern California where I live is about 10 years (time I do not have).
During the past year, as I held out hope for a donor, I became progressively more ill. I underwent two major hospitalizations, one of which was in a critical care unit. I required two back-to-back blood transfusions, suffered acute hypertension and went into acute respiratory failure. I also suffered numerous infections, ruptured cysts and my kidney function dropped to 7%. I can’t really explain what that feels like (maybe driving a car with four flat tires comes close). I lost almost 20 pounds. I lost my job in the pandemic. My savings dwindled. I launched our news site (www.socaljewishnews.com), which I have been forced to put on hiatus until I recover from my transplant.
So, this incredible news has been a LONG time coming. It has been a rollercoaster of a year.
I can’t even begin to explain how extraordinary it is that my donor — the incredible Pamela Armstrong Stockwell — was willing to do this. To willingly subject yourself as a healthy person to surgery; to give away a part of your body to save another person’s life; to undergo months of endless testing; to ride the physical and emotional rollercoaster that is needed to become a donor takes a truly special person. But anyone who knows Pamela knows she is that rarest of rare gems and would tell you in a heartbeat that it is not remotely surprising that she would do this. This is the woman who adopted not one, not two, but three children from China; the woman who volunteers at a cat sanctuary; the woman who always puts others first.
Despite all the terrible things that have happened to me, I continue to be wrapped in so much love and support — physical, emotional, financial and spiritual. From friends and family far and wide. From my extraordinary synagogue community and rabbis. From my nephrologist who fights so hard for me every single day. When Pamela was initially denied as a potential donor by my transplant team, my nephrologist stepped up and told them there was no earthly reason for her to not be considered and he made sure she was accepted again to be tested. And bless Pamela for agreeing to continue to move forward.
But here’s the kicker. Were it NOT for the pandemic, and being laid off, I wouldn’t have had the time to preemptively do all the preliminary tests (that took about four months) to have me ready to meet with a transplant center. Bless my nephrologist for doing this ahead of time so by the time I was eligible to be listed on the UNOS transplant list I had all my ducks in a row and was approved in less than a week.
And were it not for the pandemic I would never have even met Pamela. She lives in New Jersey and I live in Los Angeles. When the pandemic hit and everyone discovered Zoom, we became part of a daily writing group over Zoom, through the organization we both belong to – the Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA). Those meetings have continued every single morning (seven days a week) for the past two years.
In those meetings, a whole army of women have grown close over this time. We have met members’ pets and children over Zoom. We have celebrated milestones and shared both sorrows and joys. Naturally, they all knew my situation (they even put a video together for me during one of my hospital stays), and when I was listed in February 2021 as an eligible transplant recipient, Pamela told me not long after she wanted to get tested!
And just because somebody wants to donate, it doesn’t guarantee that they will be a match. It’s not an easy process. It’s even more difficult when you have no family members to be tested as they are often the best matches. But PKD is genetic. My dad died from it and all three children inherited it. Both my brother and sister have already had successful transplants. I do have other people who were tested who did not turn out to be compatible.
So it truly is a miracle that Pamela and I found each other thanks to the pandemic, and the WFWA write-ins, and that she was willing to do this and that she turned out to be a match!
And because of the beauty of UCLA’s transplant program, Pamela will have her surgery in New Jersey and they will then fly her kidney out to me in Los Angeles. Yes, that means I will meet Pamela’s kidney before I meet her in person. But I look forward to that day when we finally meet. It will be EPIC!
Once Pamela and I found out we were a match our extraordinary write-inmates (as we call ourselves), continued to step up. They are celebrating us and cheering us along. They sent us Joycuff morse code bracelets that say “beautiful badass," and have started an entire social media campaign with the bracelets that people all over the country (and the world) are wearing with us in solidarity.
And it is those same women who wanted to go the extra mile and support us as we undergo our surgeries and recuperate afterwards. To that end, they set up separate pages for both myself and Pamela on Give InKind, and the gifts of meal cards, grocery cards, pet cards and endless messages of support continue to pour in. I am overwhelmed and blessed at their generosity and at the unique support that Give InKind offers. Why? Because I will require 24-hour round the clock care for at least a month following my transplant. I won’t be able to cook, clean, drive, lift anything or work for a minimum of four weeks. I’m so incredibly relieved to know those taking care of me will be able to take advantage of Give InKind’s grocery store gift cards and the meal cards to just help around the house and ease some of the burden. Give InKind also offers streaming service gift cards and book gift cards, and goodness knows I’ll be doing a lot of TV watching and reading during my recuperation! There are not enough words to express my gratitude to Give InKind, to the WFWA write-in women, and especially to Pamela, her husband and her children.
I don’t even know how you repay someone with the ultimate gift of life, but I can start by telling people to buy Pamela’s amazing debut novel, which is appropriately called “A Boundless Place."
Finally, around 5,000 people die in America every year waiting for a kidney. Approximately 95,000 people are on the UNOS transplant list and only about 30,000 of them will receive a kidney. Please consider becoming a living kidney donor. You can learn about it at the National Kidney Foundation here and about UCLA’s living kidney donor program here. In addition to my now being able to be removed from the UNOS transplant list thanks to Pamela, that means someone else on the UNOS list will receive a life-saving kidney that would have been earmarked for me.
Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world. – Talmud Sanhedrin 37a
Pictured: Kelly and her dog Bronte (Charlotte, not Emily) photographed by Ivan Solis
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