Halena and Her Kidney

Intersectional” is a word the cool kids use nowadays. It’s used to describe movements that overlap in their movement toward justice. For instance, Black Lives Matter might support the Parkland Kids and the Parkland Kids might support Sandy Hook Promise – because everybody wants to feel safe, no matter the color of their skin or their ability to vote or how much trauma they’ve suffered.

Halena Sajko’s life is intersectional. I know her from church, others know her from her job of 30 years at University of Hartford, others know her as someone who stands against hate in their community and active in any number of Christian activities, including Family Promise, which works with the homeless.. Still others know her as a kind and fun person to be around. In short, Halena’s time is pretty much available to anyone, so she knows a lot of people in a lot of places. 

Two years ago, life was as it should be, all of the above things were true, but she was retiring, so she’d have time to enjoy whatever she wanted, and could choose to rest… or not, as it pleased her. She could hang out with her friend Ellen. She could play with Yogi the dog.  Life was a joy.

Then something happened. She became sick with vasculitis and she stayed sick. After a while the doctor, they determined that her kidneys were now deteriorating, because of it. If things kept up this way, she could die.  Before that, though, she would have dialysis and be kept alive by that.

For those not familiar with dialysis, it basically is a filtering of your blood while you’re hooked up to a machine that is attached to your vein. After a while, the vein gives out, and they put in a “fistula”, which is a short plastic piece put in your vein that lasts for a long time. But dialysis isn’t the cure. It’s not particularly fun, and it wears you out when it is done.  A few years ago, I had a client on a dialysis machine three days a week – basically every other day. He would go in feeling kind of “cloudy” as the toxins of normal digestion built up in his system. They would put him in a chair for a few hours, let him watch TV during that time, and he would be much less “cloudy” when he was done – but he was tired. I guess having blood removed from your body and put back in it is a strain on the body. Still, it seemed like he could go on like this forever, as he was waiting for a kidney donor and a transplant. I think he was in his 50’s or so when he suddenly died. I think it was too much strain on his heart or something. In any case, he was dead suddenly, due to his kidneys having problems for many years. 

My mom had kidney problems for years and years, so I know a little about kidney transplants, dialysis and such. In order of worsening, here’s what deteriorating kidneys are treated. 1) A person has a healthy kidney, and will live a full life. 2) A person has, or gets, a disease of the kidney. The kidney deteriorates and one of two things will happen. Either the person will not get treatment and die, or they will be put on dialysis and not die. People on dialysis are often happy to be alive and are grateful for the opportunity to enjoy the life they have. 3) While the kidneys continue to deteriorate, the doctors put the person on a waitlist and look for a donor kidney. This yields the same sort of results: If you get a donor kidney, you stay alive. My mom had a kidney that lasted 25 or 35 years. If you don’t get a transplant, you die like my client did. 

But wait, there’s more! Even if you get a donor kidney, because it’s a foreign object that your body didn’t expect to see there, it tries to get rid of it, and “rejects” the kidney. Doctors generally fight this with drugs that lower your immunity, so you get sick easier and now have to take the meds for the rest of your life. That is what my mother suffered through for years, but, like the chance to be on dialysis changes your perception, having a new kidney also changes your perception. Is it better to get sick or a cold more easily with the meds, or better to die without them? If you ask the person with the new kidney, they’ll tell you that the irritation is worth it. 

Years ago, my mom got her kidney from a cadaver donor. That is, someone died, and in their dying, she got life. It’s a powerful experience and – as a person of faith – my mom had whole new worlds to contemplate because of it. Halena already has a strong faith, but will surely make meaning of the experience, even if it ultimately rejects or she has to take meds for the rest of her life. 

But what if there was less hassle? What if you could make it less likely she’d have trouble? Well, that’s the good news! You can! It turns out Hartford Hospital has a program that matches live donors. God, in God’s infinite wisdom, gave us two kidneys, but we only need one. Why we don’t get two hearts or two brains is a question for another time. We, amazingly, get two kidneys. 

If you’re healthy and have an extra kidney to give, you can give one to Halena or someone like her. If you’re willing to donate a kidney, one of two things will happen – but this time, none of them involves death! If you want to give a kidney to Halena, but yours and hers don’t match (she has A+ blood, in case you’re considering this amazing offer), they will give your kidney to someone else and someone else will give one to Halena. In this case, two people get new life– a simpler, easier new life. Nothing bad likely happens to your health. In fact, it’s done laproscopically. That means they only cut a small spot in you to take out the kidney. You’re fine,and now three people have life because of your kidneys! You can look yourself in the mirror every single day, amazed at how cool you are, for the rest of your life! You can’t even buy that kind of coolness and self-respect!  Yay, you!

The world needs good people like Halena, who make the world a better place in general. I can promise you that if you give someone a kidney, you will automatically become one of those people that makes the world a better place.

If you’re interested, contact the Hartford Hospital Transplant Program’s living donor                 co-ordinators  Kari and Azzy at 860-972-9918 or 860-972-4632, respectively. 

 

DISCLAIMER: I know theology and psychology. I make no promises medically about all of this. I don’t even like the sight of my own blood. For that, you’ll have to talk to the living donor co-ordinators listed above. They know medicine and they can help you actually be a hero! 

 

Resisting with Peace, 

 

John

 

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