This “First Person” article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail on April 27, 2018.
Twice a year – at Christmas and in early June – I hear from a man whom I have met only once, who lives in a remote village far from my Vancouver home, but with whom I share something intimate: our kidneys. I’ve got one, he’s got the other. I’m not supposed to know this man. Protocols in the national Kidney Paired Donation program decree that donors and recipients who are strangers should remain that way.
Vern and I were part of a cross-Canada exchange involving multiple donor-recipient pairs that resulted in my daughter, Kasari, receiving a kidney from someone closer to her age and my kidney going to Vern, who is closer to my age and for whom my kidney will be a better match.
While for some, donor-recipient confidentiality in a paired kidney exchange makes perfect sense, for inquisitive people like Kasari and me (and, it turns out, Vern and his wife, Shirl), engaging in something as intimate as a kidney transplant ignites our most basic curiosity. Who is now walking around with my kidney? What kind of a person is she or he? How does she or he feel about it? How is my kidney working out for them? And who gave my daughter the incredible gift of her new kidney? I mean, this is a vital organ we’re talking about. This is shared DNA. This is important, life-altering stuff.
By putting two and two and two together and watching those shuffling the post-op corridors and the comings and goings during endless hours in post-op waiting rooms, Kasari and Shirl were able to figure out whose kidney went to whom. Because we are not supposed to know these things, they had to be tentative, discreet and sensitive to signals when exchanging pleasantries before my daughter could say, “I think my mum’s kidney went to your husband. What do you think?”