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Terry Liepmann Headshot

A Mother-Daughter Donation: How Sharing a Kidney Saved Our Family

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KIDNEY TRANSPLANT

"Hi, Mommy. It's me. I've got some good news! I just got a call from Ellen, the committee has cleared me as a [kidney] donor for you. I'm really excited about that! I love you, Mommy. Talk to you soon."

That was July, 2007.

My name is Erica, I'm an editor here at The Huffington Post. In my work on HuffPost's Impact section, my job is to share inspiring stories with America. I often write about struggle and sacrifice and the unique ways people help one another.

Yet, as often as I share others' stories, I don't often put into words the biggest contribution I have made: donating one of my kidneys to my mother.

In honor of National Donate Life Month, my mom, Terry, and I have decided to share our recollections and the voice mail messages that we have saved from that time.

Included here is our story, in our own words.

Terry:

About 30 years ago, while living in Tucson, Arizona, I began to experience subtle signs of illness for which my doctors could not find an explanation. After years of frustrating treatment, for a variety of, in hindsight, erroneous diagnoses, I was told that I had chronic renal insufficiency. My family's medical history indicated that dialysis would be a poor treatment option for me. Because of this, I was faced with three options: a cadaveric kidney transplant, a living donor transplant or death.

My doctor advised me that a living donor kidney transplant was my best chance for a normal life, and so my family, friends and colleagues stepped forward to be tested as donors. Of 22 potential living donors, and one courageous family who agreed to donate their daughter's kidney after her brief, fatal illness, only my husband and daughter made it to the last round of testing.

In the final screenings, however, my husband found out he had been born with a benign kidney defect. This condition made him an unsuitable candidate for donation. In the end, only Erica was cleared to donate.

I hoped that we could schedule the surgery at a convenient time for Erica, who was a junior in college at the time, but my body was working on its own schedule.

In September, 2007, I was told that the situation was urgent. I needed a kidney.

"Hi, Erica. It's Mom. Sweetheart, can you give Daddy or me a call when you have some time? I know you are busy with classes, but I just found out that I need to have a transplant within the next couple of weeks. I'm so sorry. I tried to hold out until Christmas break, but I didn't quite make it. I love you, Daughter. Call as soon as you can."

Erica:

Her message came as a shock. I had thought we had more time, I had thought the transplant was still months off. In an instant, the situation suddenly grew dire.

It hurt to hear my mom apologize for being sick, as if she had any control over her body's growing desperation for a functioning kidney.

I was glad I could help. Getting approved as a kidney donor was an exciting bit of luck.

What made our story so startling was that I am adopted. Typically, relatives have the best shot at being a match, it's very rare for biological strangers to be compatible.

The fact that my mother didn't actually give birth to me, yet I still had the perfect organ to save her life, solidified my belief that this was fate -- perhaps even part of a divine plan -- for me to be the one to donate.

It was terrifying. But the pressure of my mom's condition, and the urgency with which she needed a kidney transplant, made me disinclined to so much as blink the wrong way each time the topic was publicly breached.

Only in quiet moments did I confess my fears to my endlessly supportive boyfriend, the same one who would patiently care for me during the weeks to come.

Ultimately, however, no thought could be scarier than the possibility of losing my mother. That was my driving force.

Our surgery was quickly scheduled for October 2.

Terry:

For the first time, not only was my daughter facing a difficulty I could not help her through, but she was taking care of me. Erica was the first to be wheeled into the operating room, and I followed about an hour later. My husband and a few friends waited during our four-hour procedure.

When I awakened from surgery, in the intensive care unit, the first thing I did was to ask the staff about my daughter. A nurse pointed to a bed across the room.

Later, I heard a voice asking me to open my eyes. They had wheeled my daughter's bed next to mine so that we were facing each other. I heard Erica say, weakly, "How are you, Mommy?" I replied, "I'm fine, Sweetheart, how are you?" She said, "I love you, Mommy." I told her that I loved her and they wheeled her out of the room. That was the last time I saw my daughter for several days. However, knowing that my husband and our friends were taking care of her gave me some of the comfort I needed to face the days and weeks of the challenging recovery.

The surgeon said that my daughter's transplanted kidney started working immediately, even before I was taken out of the operating room. Although my husband said the color in my face was instantly better than it had been in years, the recovery process was more painful than I could have imagined. My surgeon's assurances, my strong faith, the prayers of hundreds of wonderful people in our church and work communities and the care of a small group of very dear friends sustained all of us. For their care and support, I am forever grateful.

Erica:

I was in the hospital for a few days, and out of school for a few weeks, before resuming my classwork. I went back to my regular life very quickly, although my body took months to fully adjust.

My mother's recovery was, understandably, a much longer ordeal, but her transformation has been incredible. Her doctors joke she's a model patient, an ideal example of how a transplant should go.

Today, it all seems like a distant dream. The fear of losing my mom has dissipated over the years, as I have watched her grow stronger and stronger.

I relish in seeing her spirited, remembering that a few years ago, she couldn't muster that energy. Now, a long workout at the gym or even a marathon mother-daughter shopping session, which once would have been too exhausting, are commonplace activities.

Our scars -- and my mother's improved health -- are proud reminders of our accomplishment, but for the most part, we can live normal lives.

For me, the sacrifice seems so minor in comparison to the impact it has had -- saving my mother's life, preserving my family and giving me the gift of continuing to have her in my life.

Please visit the Donate Life America website for more information about how to become an organ or tissue donor. Supporters can also get involved by making a financial contribution and spreading awareness about the millions of Americans in need of transplants.

The United Network for Organ Sharing, the parent organization of Donate Life America, also offers resources for potential donors, transplant recipients and people in need.

Around the Web

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Donate Life America

UNOS

UNOS | Donation & Transplantation | Data

Kidney | Kidney transplant | www.transplantexperience.com