Mom’s Voice: A ‘Transplant’ Father’s Day

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jillJune 10, 1999 was quickly approaching.

“I will be home from the hospital by June 20, I have to barbeque hamburgers for my family for Father’s Day.”

The surgeon reiterated there was no guarantee. After a kidney transplant a recipient could be in the hospital a couple weeks or more. There could be complications.

“Nope,” my dad replied, “I’ll be home then.”

At 5 a.m. on June 10, 1999, my husband pulled into the parking structure at St. Joseph’s hospital. The still of the chilly darkness seemed to fit the mood. While we joked inside the brightly lit hospital, the seriousness of the situation clung to the air. 

Not being a morning person, I remember a part of me was looking forward to the surgery so that I could go back to sleep.

I signed a pile of papers, pulled on the compression stockings they handed me and was given a black sharpie marker to initial my body. I took the sharpie and drew a happy face on my left side, just under my ribs. This was to signal that we were all in agreement that the left side was the correct place to cut. Prior intensive testing with contrast die was used to create a roadmap of how and where the arteries were to be cut so that they could be sewn on without incident, into my dad’s body. Only after they successfully removed my kidney, would Dr. Ruzics, my dad’s surgeon, be given the signal to begin in his OR down the hall.

I was wheeled into my operating room. Like the movies, there was a flurry of activity with nurses in blue scrubs, laying out sterilized surgical tools onto trays. The oxygen mask was placed over my face and I was told to count from 10 to 1 backwards. I remember saying 10 and 9. 

When I awoke my first thought was, “Did they start the surgery yet?” I was totally unaware that I was in recovery and the transplant was a success!

Sure to my dad’s word, although a little sore, we celebrated that special Father’s Day 14 years ago at my parents’ house. I sat at the kitchen table watching my dad in the backyard, smoke billowing around him from the Weber barbecue as he flipped burgers for us. 

We had made it over one big hurdle, yet our future was still unknown.  How long would the kidney last? How long would he live? I was forced to simply enjoy the moment home with everyone.

In the 14 years post transplant, my dad has caught hundreds of marlin in Cabo San Lucas, spent time with his grandchildren, traveled with my mom, made new friends, pursued his passion for technology and  photography, and expanded his wood shop in the garage. In short, he has lived life.

Currently close to 120,000 men, women and children are awaiting organ transplants to save their lives. Thousands more are in need of tissue and cornea transplants to restore their mobility and sight.

Of course of these people waiting, only a small percentage will or can receive a live organ donation. My father-in-law was in desperate need of a new heart at 52 years old. He received the heart of a 19-year-old woman and his life was extended eight years.

This Father’s Day, I urge everyone to register to be an organ donor. Anyone can be a potential donor regardless of age, race, or medical history. If you are a registered and you die, there is no cost to the donor or their family for organ or tissue donation.  To register go to donatelife.net.  

Have a happy Father’s Day! I’ll be at my parents’ for a barbecue.

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