My Three Kidneys
This is the story of the culmination of a lifetime of gradual kidney decline. Polycystic kidneys are a family heirloom inherited from my mother and grandfather – and probably way back beyond. I am the third of four siblings to receive a transplant.
About three years ago when my time came to start preparing, it was made clear that I needed to find a donor myself. We have so few donors in New Zealand. We set up a process to find a suitable donor with my sister Marie acting as secretary. After some time a friend from my parish, Maria Fresia, came and offered. She is Italian and the most loving generous soul you would ever meet. She went through a series of tests over a 14 month period as to suitability (blood grouping and matching tissue being the primary two).
So the journey began. I couldn’t have asked for a more compatible companion on the road. As my health continued to decline, she grew stronger in support and acceptance of what was needed. The only worry I had was that I might wake up speaking only Italian!
On the Sunday of my entry to hospital, the parish community at St Mary’s, New Brighton, anointed Maria and me and another sick friend during the Eucharist. The parish prayed for successful outcomes.
That afternoon, I entered Christchurch Public Hospital, for the operation. The nephrology department there is simply world class. They have the best team of people you could assemble, kind, caring and extremely able – surgeons, nephrologists, nurses and the ever cheerful cleaning and tea ladies. The public health system when it is working is fantastic. I must say that I was extremely conscious that I was in a very privileged position with such First World skill and care available on tap when millions in the world lack basic healthcare. Still, God placed me here in this time and context.
The operation itself took about three hours for each of us in two separate theatres. The surgeon told me later that when the kidney arrived upstairs from Maria, he thought it was stunning. ‘It nearly leapt off the table into your stomach,’ was his wry comment.
The six day hospital stay began with some distress but gradually improved. About half way through the week I realised that I was actually on Retreat with so many opportunities to think and pray and reflect. Clearly I was in no substantial pain for which I was deeply grateful. I had placed my declining health in God’s hand many years before and never had a moment’s genuine fear.
With the operation being deemed an initial success, Maria came to see me in my isolation room. She was tired but determined to see that I had made it through. I asked her how she had coped at home the night before the op. ‘I never slept a wink’, came the reply. ‘What did you do?’ ‘I talked to the kidney all night. I thanked it for being my friend for all of my 52 years. I then told it I wanted it to go now and do the same for Jim.’ I dissolved in tears. ‘Greater love has no one’.
A Slow Recovery
Maria went home after five days, I after six to my family. Quickly I came to see that I was still in Retreat mode. I had time to think through so much, to pray in peace and quiet and I felt closer to the divine for longer periods than I had for some time.
I started communicating with the new kidney. I needed a name, needed to acknowledge the Italian connection. The name Angelo popped up. Perfect. I would name my new friend Angelo, after Saint John XXXIII, the wonderful pope who had launched the Second Vatican Council. I thought, ‘maybe I had better check with him’. I sought him out. He was delighted. He said that he was just back from his canonization in Rome, which he had thoroughly enjoyed, but to have a kidney named after him would be the icing on the cake! And he rocked back on his heels and shook with laughter.
I always thought that when I had my kidney transplant, they would block off the old kidneys and the new one would take over. Not so. I now have three functional kidneys. My new one and my old two which will continue to operate at 8% capacity until they quietly fade away.
And so the recuperation continues slowly. While it is early days, both Maria and I are doing well and getting stronger. I can’t believe how well I feel. The disease is gone. Maria is as bright as a button. She is so pleased it has all worked out for the best. Such generosity. Unbelievable.
Two months after our initial anointing, we were able to attend our parish church at St Mary’s and thank the people. Personally. I felt totally at one with God, the people and life. All the difficult bits from the past were integrated. It was a moment to cherish. My Retreat was over.
Postscript: New Zealand is desperately short of kidney donors. We’re now seeking a kidney for my older sibling Robert, within two years. Anyone who would like to consider gifting him a kidney could email my sister Marie to discuss it on email at: firstname.lastname@example.org. In 2001 Marie gifted her kidney to my eldest brother Michael. All I can guarantee is that any offer would be confidentially and lovingly received.
Jim Consedine lives at Thomas Merton CW in Christchurch.