The Gift That Could Not Be Received

by Darren Cox

May 1996

I received a call from my parents that they were planning a third trip to Hawaii. Hawaii was their favorite vacation spot, so they were naturally excited. On this particular time however, "there was a slight problem." My father had recently gone to the doctor, and had something wrong with his blood tests. My parents told me during that phone call that there was nothing to worry about because the doctor told them to go to Hawaii and have a good time. For the record, I have two older brothers: Tim (32), and Terry (30), and his wife, Suzanne and their beautiful baby daughter, Sydney. Little did I know that when they got back from Hawaii and my father went back to the doctor, our family's life would never be the same again.

August 1996

My father was diagnosed with kidney problems (not quite renal failure but he was certainly on his way). Immediately the idea of a transplant was introduced, but my father's doctor dismissed this because he wasn't at renal failure yet. From this time on, the reality of my father's illness grew day by day, as did the anxiety and the fear of the inevitable. With the months that followed, my father's condition deteriorated, as well as his spirits. He was forced to take shorter days at work because of the vomiting and the lack of energy. He was constantly cold and forgetful. Eventually, his kidneys failed (this means that they are operating at or below 10% of their normal ability) and he was forced into dialysis. Dad was now on disability and not able to work any longer. It was now time for the long process of a transplant to begin.

Shands Hospital in Gainesville (Florida) contacted my father for his preliminary appointment for a transplant evaluation. Dad would have to go through many series of tests many different times just to be accepted into the program. He eventually passed all the tests and was considered a good candidate for a transplant. I volunteered to be the donor but was told "no" by my father because he did not want any of his children to suffer. This is typical of unselfish compassionate nature of my parents. Later, after my dad realized what living on dialysis was really like, he changed his mind. I was considered the best donor because I was the youngest and likely the healthiest. After my vigorous testing in March of 1997, it was determined that I was healthy and would be a good donor, so a date for the transplant was setÉJune 17, 1997. Now the real anxiety and anticipation began.

June 16, 1997

My father was admitted into the hospital and I was given my final testing. I am not ashamed to admit that I was scared. I had never been in the hospital before, let alone have major surgery, so this of course was to be expected. My immediate family took the entire week off of work to be with my father and me. Father Morgan, an old friend and teacher of the family, was present on this day to give my father and me the Sacrament of the Sick. Our family is Catholic and has always been quite religious, so we naturally had many masses being said for my father and me during this week.

It seemed like the whole world was supporting us so what could possibly go wrong?

June 17, 1997

I had to be at the hospital at 6:45am. I was promptly taken upstairs and prepped for surgery. After being wheeled into the O.R., the next thing I remember is waking up in the recovery room. I was told that my operation went well, and my father was still in surgery. Later, I was taken to my room and told my father was doing great. I was in a lot of pain. I had chosen the epidural as my pain relief solution. It worked at first, but soon failed miserably. I was still foggy from the anesthesia, but the harsh reality of intense pain kept me conscious. You must understand, three layers of muscles had to be severed and my 12th rib removed in order to extract my kidney. I could not sleep or even move my body in any way, shape, or form. I called my brother Terry at his hotel room at 5:30 in the morning and ask him to please come and see me. I just wanted someone in my family close to me during this difficult time. The doctors came by a 7:00am and decided that the epidural was not working properly for me, so they put me on the morphine pump.

June 18, 1997

Morphine was taking care of my pain nicely and all was well. About mid afternoon, I was in my room when my father (in a wheelchair), my mother, two brothers, and the transplant coordinator came into my room. As soon as they entered the room, I knew something was wrong. They told me that a blood clot in one of my father's original kidneys was causing problems, and my kidney (which was spliced on top of his kidney) would have to be removed. Words can not describe what I felt at that moment. My father was facing two major surgeries in two days and I felt responsible. I felt I had let him down. I was told that it was not my fault -- my kidney was perfectly healthy, and this was a very unusual occurrence. This of course did not make things very much easier, or ease my pain, both mentally and physically. I would do anything for my family because I love them dearly, which is why I hated to see my father suffer. I wanted so badly to help him, and now suddenly it seemed I had only made things worse. I have been repeatedly told that I did not make things worse, but instead gave my father a chance at a new life. This was difficult for me to accept at first, but eventually it sunk in. I do not regret for a minute what I did for my dad, and giving the same circumstances would do it all over again. This experience has changed my life in many positive ways. It has made me a stronger person with a deeper appreciation for human life.

April 17, 1998

My father developed peritonitis on three different occasions since the transplant. Peritonitis is an infection in the lining of the stomach. It is very painful, and is accompanied by nausea and fever. Since his last bout with peritonitis, my father has decided to get on the transplant list again.

This is great news for me because now I do not think my kidney went to waste. This puts a positive spin on the failure of the first transplant, and renews my faith in my father's courage. This whole experience has made me a better person, with a deeper appreciation for human life.

As for my father, he is grateful for the effort and we have never been closer.