One of the Three Most Important Things I’ll Do in my Life

I’m Donating a Kidney to my Wife Amy Next Week

by Jason Didner

Amy, Jason and Holly Didner in 2012

Marrying Amy and adopting Holly are the 2 most important things I’ve done in my life.

Marrying Amy and adopting Holly are easily the two most important things I’d done in my life up until now. These days, a new decision has been presented to me and the choice was clear. In order to preserve my wife’s precious life and give my very young daughter a mother who can get down on the floor and play with her unfettered by dialysis machines and chronic fatigue, the moment of truth has come where I have the power to give my family the future it deserves, just by saying ‘yes’ and accepting the experiences that comes with that choice. This is the choice that protects the other two most important choices I’ve ever made.

Amy and Jason Didner's wedding in 2000

Since before getting married we knew Amy's diabetes would present a challenge.

We’ve known since early in our marriage that Amy was experiencing steadily declining kidney functioning as a complication of Type 1 Diabetes, which she’s had since age 8. About 2 years ago, we were instructed to start seeing a kidney specialist regularly and consider the merits of a kidney transplant. Amy’s excellent diabetes specialist, Dr. Joseph Giangola, suggested that Amy could be a good candidate for a kidney-and-pancreas transplant. Both would come from the same donor, who would have to be deceased in order to donate the pancreas. Typically, victims of accidents who have indicated in their lifetimes a willingness to donate organs are the donors of these precious organs.

A kidney-pancreas transplant offers the added benefit of temporarily “curing” type 1 diabetes for as long as the transplanted pancreas functions, which is currently in the 5-10 year range.

Over the course of several months, we started making very frequent trips to Hackensack University Medical Center’s transplant team to get Amy checked out through numerous medical tests to ensure a transplant and its effects would likely be safe for her. All our efforts had gone toward becoming a recipient for a deceased person’s kidney and pancreas. A discussion with the transplant team’s kidney doctor, however, brought up another concern: As Amy’s kidney deficiencies made her progressively more exhausted while facing the daily challenges of raising a toddler, this was a sign that her kidney decline might be reaching a critical point – a point where perhaps she’d have to start dialysis until a matching kidney/pancreas from a deceased person might come along.

There would be only one controllable alternative to dialysis, given the unpredictable nature of deceased organs becoming available. A living, healthy person would have to consent to donating a kidney. That person could be a relative or a total stranger. The blood type would have to match and the antibodies would have to be compatible.
I agreed to become an option, a fallback plan, in case a deceased kidney and pancreas would not work out by the time she’d absolutely need either a transplant or dialysis. I began the process of getting tested and interviewing with doctors and social workers. It was discovered that we were in fact a compatible match and I could donate my kidney directly to Amy.

To the best of everybody’s current knowledge, my life expectancy will remain as it already is, even after donating a kidney. My remaining kidney will grow in size and capability in the coming months, able to effectively rid my body of toxins enough to last a lifetime. Now probably won’t be a great time to take up cage fighting or motorcycle racing, as I have to protect my remaining kidney from injury.
The transplant is set for Tuesday morning, 5/26 at Hackensack University Medical Center. Amy and I will be operated on in neighboring operating rooms.

Jason gives Holly the flight experience at Heroes Rock at Congregation Shomrei Emunah in February 2015

Lifting people and things will be off limits during recovery.

People ask me if I’m scared or nervous. I answer, “yes, but not about the things you might expect.” See, as far as the part where I go under anesthesia and wake up minus one kidney, feel pain and experience healing, I’m not particularly worried because I can’t control that. It will just happen. The part that does make me nervous is the process of suspending all the “doing” that makes up my day-to-day life, whether it’s carrying Holly on my shoulders (lifting is off limits for at least 6 weeks!), performing children’s music in a live setting, hosting weekly kids’ concerts by other musicians, visiting with my disabled brother-in-law or supporting the computer operations of the construction company that employs me. In the runup to the surgery, I’ll struggle with the process of applying the brakes to this constantly fast-moving train and preparing everyone (and myself) for the smoothest possible transition into a reality where I’m on the bench. That’s a new and strange experience for me to ponder.

There have been gigs to cancel, substitute performers to find, help to prepare (me asking for household help…YIKES!), documentation to write for a consultant who will be available to deal with the technological emergencies that come up in a workplace. There’s been plenty of worry that I can’t prepare adequately. But once we get picked up to check in to the hospital, all that will change to “just being. Just healing.”

Amy and Jason Didner on the tennis court in 2002.

Tennis is Amy’s favorite game – I hope she’ll return to it once recovered from the transplant.

For Amy that recovery process will take longer but I understand that by the 2nd day after surgery, she’ll really feel the benefits of the kidney working like it hasn’t since her mid-20s. I remember reading a story of a dad who needed a kidney and as his kidney function continued to decline, all he could do was sleep. Now after surgery he was playing basketball with his son for the first time ever. This story is strong inspiration to me that Amy and Holly can have an energetic relationship like never before. Amy’s favorite game since childhood has been tennis and I have hopes that she’ll rekindle that love for the game and share it with Holly.

Over the next several months I’ll continue sharing my thoughts and stories about this point in my family and personal life. I hope the sharing of these experiences bring you inspiration and knowledge that benefit you and your family as well.
What are your most important life decisions and what effect did those choices have on your life? What important choices lie ahead for you? I’d love for you to join in the discussion by commenting below.

For more information about organ and tissue donation, see the New Jersey Sharing Network.

12 thoughts on “One of the Three Most Important Things I’ll Do in my Life

  1. Brooke Webb

    Jason,

    My thoughts and prayers for you, Amy and Holly will be constant as you begin this journey. I will also be praying for the teams of doctors, nurses, aides and for those who care for Holly. This is a great gift you are giving, not just the act of giving your kidney to Amy, but the gift you are giving others and by showing Holly compassion and love for another human being. I will be praying for all of you.

    Warmly,

    Brooke Webb
    itsgr82bme.com

    Reply
    1. junglegymjamsite Post author

      Thank you Brooke for taking the time to comment and for adding the perspective about what Holly will learn from the experience. I’ve got a new story about Holly in the works that I will share as a guest blog post.

      Reply
  2. Mara Lieberman

    Wishing you both a smooth and speedy recovery. More importantly, a new improved and very long life together. Thoughts and positive energy sent your way!

    Reply
    1. junglegymjamsite Post author

      Thanks Mara! What an amazing coincidence about your having worked with Amy before and the connection with Holly and the twins at JCC.

      Reply
  3. Patricia

    All best wishes and thoughts to you and your family. And how generous of you to share your journey so that others may benefit from the experience. Also hoping that soon all these struggles and trials will be but a bad memory in an ever-lengthening rear-view mirror look back at your long and happy, healthy lives.

    Reply
    1. junglegymjamsite Post author

      Thanks Patricia! The overwhelming response I’ve gotten for sharing this story has been enormously encouraging and I’ll keep sharing stories about the transplant through the recovery. And you’re right; living with diabetes has often meant taking action to improve things and then waiting for the situation to resolve. In the case of the transplant, we waited as long as we could for a deceased donor’s matching kidney to become available. When Amy’s health condition forced the issue, waiting was no longer an option and here we are. The waiting period and Amy’s declining kidney function will be a chapter of our life we’ll be glad to put in the past.

      Reply
  4. Gina McHatton

    Love, prayers, good health, and wonderful healing to you both. Wishing you the best possible outcome. Your story and journey is just beautiful. Keep us all in the loop when you feel you can.

    Reply
    1. junglegymjamsite Post author

      Thanks Gina! I find sharing these stories not only to be a great way to connect with my community on a human level, but therapeutic for our family as well. Living like there’s nothing to hide is a lot less stressful than keeping everything a closely guarded secret.

      Reply
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