The Gift of Life

By Nicolette Aguon

August 8, 2018 was arguably the day that changed my life forever. From the outside looking in, my life changed due to an enormous act of kindness, but I would argue my life changed for much different reasons. On that glorious day, I donated one of my kidneys to my mother. My story of my kidney donation wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t give background context. Let’s go back almost three years ago to 2016. Summer 2016; I was 24 years old, and in my mind I was without a doubt living my best life. Around June or July of that year I got a call from my mother that she was having some health complications and got admitted to the hospital. Prior to this, my mother was already diagnosed with kidney disease and over the course of a few short years my mother‘s kidney disease progressed to what is known as end-stage renal failure also known as chronic kidney disease (Kidney Disease progress in stages from 1-5). That dreaded day at the hospital, the doctor gave us two options; my mother could either A) start dialysis as soon as possible or B) wait for a transplant with the knowledge that due to her age and other factors, it that could take years for that to happen. Waiting for a transplant ultimately meant my mother was facing death. My mother was very apprehensive about starting dialysis due to her own preconceived notion‘s about dialysis. Now I would be flat out lying if I said dialysis is not scary. Dialysis is awful, but we knew in order to lengthen my mother’s life, this was the only option. 

I went home that night and thought about what just happened and I made the decision that I would sign up to donate one of my kidneys to my mom. It was a decision I didn’t even need to talk to my mom about. When the thought came to mind, it happened so quickly that I couldn’t even question it. I immediately looked up what I needed to do to donate one of my kidneys and signed up on Donate Life Texas website. From there, if a person decides to donate a kidney, whatever hospital the recipient chooses to go through for the surgery, will contact you to do a phone screening. I don’t recall the exact timing, but I would say probably within a couple of days or week, a nurse at Baylor Scott and White in Fort Worth contacted me. The living kidney donor coordinator nurse contacted me to do a phone screening with me to make sure and confirm that the donation is something I truly wanted to do. At this time my mom had already started hemodialysis and moved in with me full-time. A month or two had passed since my mom started dialysis and we went to the hospital in December 2017 to do the initial blood work. In order to fully determine if someone is a match for kidney donation, you not only have to do blood work, but also an extensive health screening to ensure you are a healthy candidate.

About a week after I did the extensive testing in January 2017, I got a call from the hospital; they wanted me to do one more test to ensure my kidney function. By this time, my mom had been on dialysis for five months. I believe in the course of those five months, my mom had her own questions to answer and figure out. From what I understand, I believe the biggest hurdle my mom had to overcome, was accepting the fact that a child of hers was doing something so generous in order to help her live. So when I got the call from the hospital to ask for another test, my mom was very apprehensive; some of the responses I got from her included she wanted to see if she could heal her kidneys herself by maybe exploring holistic and natural remedies. Initially, I was upset. I felt like I did all this work, and she wasn’t letting me help her, but I also had to realize the decision wasn’t on me alone. I could say I want to donate my kidney, but my mom had to be open to it. I accepted that she was basically questioning my decision from what I interpreted, but I also had to allow her that space to make that decision. I told her I did not want to go any further with any testing and quite frankly waste anyone’s time at the hospital if she wasn’t exactly sure so we left it at that. 

That was January 2017.  My mother continued dialysis (and it got rough). Sometime in spring 2017, my mom started peritoneal dialysis meaning she was able to do her treatments at home. The biggest difference was her treatment went from 3x a week to nightly. Everything in our lives changed drastically. My mom was able to go back to work; she seemed happy on the outside, she was able to get out the house from what it looked like and, not feeling as exhausted. This sweet time lasted for a couple months. Fast forward to fall of 2017; my mom winds up back in the hospital. This time her diagnosis was diverticulitis. Diverticulitis is extremely common and known risk of anyone who does peritoneal dialysis. This took my mom back so many steps, and for me it was absolutely devastating. Without even telling my mom, I called Baylor hospital that day when I went to the hospital to see my mother. I remember calling the nurse and briefly telling her about what happened with my mom. Expecting to hear that I could resume the testing process, the nurse informed me that we would have to wait to do anything until my mom was deemed “transplant ready.” This waiting period lasted all the way until April of 2018! In that time I spoke with my mom and told her I’m doing this, I am making this decision. May 2018 was when I got the call. I got the news I waiting almost three years to hear! Our story ended with the sweetest ending ever on August 8, 2018. 

It never even hit me that I was donating my kidney to my mom up until the night before our surgery. Once I started sharing to coworkers and friends about the upcoming surgery, I did get some apprehension, mainly out of concern for me. I have always strived my life by the motto “you can’t predict the future,” which is what I told these people. My decision to donate didn’t engage me down a rabbit hole of ‘what ifs?’ What if I get sick? What if I need a kidney in the future? Those questions never came to my mind because I can’t predict that, but what I can do is stay healthy and help prevent any sickness in my body. I believe this mindset and overall attitude I had about the surgery helped me a lot. 

It look me a long time to write this piece. It is so hard to share my story of kidney donation without sharing how I got there. The bad guy here is not only kidney disease, but it’s also dialysis. As I went on this journey with my mom, I was shocked to learn the horror stories of dialysis. With so much abuse and neglect happening in many dialysis clinics, I was determined to make sure my mom did not wind up back there! My hopes in sharing this shortened version of my story, is that it would enlighten and educate other people to look into kidney donation. I spent many hours on YouTube watching videos, messaging people I found online, and reading articles to make sure I wasn’t putting myself at risk. I believe God gave us all two kidneys for a reason. Share your extra one if you want, you’d be surprised the blessings that’ll come your way after.

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