Chapter Thirty-Three: The Search
May 5, 2005 was the 10th anniversary of my second kidney transplant. On my 10th anniversary, I was celebrating. I was 22-years-old, finished with university, lost over 60 pounds, had discovered the girly and fashionable side to me, and had embarked on the reality and thrills of the work world. On my organ donor family’s 10th year, I could only imagine that they were grieving.
Every single year since I received my second kidney transplant, I thought about my organ donor and her family. But, my 10th anniversary was different. I could not stop thinking about my organ donor and her family in an obsessive and compulsive way. I kept thinking about my organ donor and my own life. How would the life of my organ donor unfolded if she had lived? What would her family have been like? If she had lived, what would have happened to my own life at 12-years-old? I would have naturally begun hemodialysis, but for how long until I would perhaps have met with death and my own organs and tissues given to so many others who awaited life to begin again? How would my family and friends have been without me? What would this world or life been like without me in it?
Then, thoughts of my organ donor would attack me. In 2005, my organ donor would have been 14-years-old. She would have been only a couple years older than when I received my second kidney transplant. She would have just started high school. Maybe she would have been excited and embraced the new school, classes, possibilities, and people. Maybe she would have been the most popular and loved girl that the other girls wanted to be like and other boys wanted to be with. Or maybe she would have been a nervous wreck like me who was wrapped up in shy and awkward ambivalence. What kind of experiences would she have had from 4-years-old to 14-years-old? She had died before losing her first tooth and tucking it under her pillow for the Tooth Fairy to slip money under there. She had missed out on childhood favorites of learning to tie her shoelaces and riding a bicycle. She had died before even starting kindergarten to paint pictures, build blocks, make friends, and tease teachers behind their backs. What would she have looked and dressed like? Who would she have been?
On the anniversary of my second kidney transplant, I came to the conclusion that time went by too fast. When I was younger, I impatiently waited for the days to go faster and faster and now I was catching fallen stars to hold on to time and wishing it just a little bit slower and a little bit less restless. The years that went by from May 5, 1995 to May 5, 2005 were always nerve-wracking and on edge that perhaps another kidney rejection would occur. I was convinced that it was too good to be true that this second kidney transplant had lasted for a decade. Surely, something was going to go wrong. But, then the day after my 10th anniversary came. I exhaled. I felt a renewed sense of living and of life that I had gone through one whole decade and was now about to truly begin a whole new time of my life. At the same time, an ache and wonder flooded me with constant thoughts about my organ donor family and my organ donor’s kidneys that pumped life into me every single day that I breathed and lived.
This is when I knew what I had to do. I had to contact my organ donor family.
It had been ten years and counting since my second kidney transplant, so I was uncertain if my organ donor family could even be found. However, in 2005, the boom of the Internet, technology, Google, and the obsession and love over such social media sites as Facebook and Twitter had taken over and created a whole new communication and web-based social interaction phenomenon. I started googling such words as “1995 deaths of 4-year-old girl who donated organs in New York.” Search results were convoluted and unrelated to my own plight of searching for my organ donor. I quickly reasoned that I had to return back to basics to try to find my organ donor family.
I contacted the Transplant Center at Westchester Medical Center where I received my second kidney transplant and was put through a transplant coordinator by the name of **Katherine. I actually met Katherine before at Transplant Support Organization meetings that I only went to sporadically when I had the chance and was not knee high in college work, exams, and projects. Katherine was a patient, matter-of-fact, and cheerful lady with short, cropped, and stylish honey brown hair and warm light brown eyes.
Nervous, anxious, and sweaty, I stammered to Katherine, “I am searching for my organ donor family from my second kidney transplant. It has been 10 years. Do you think I can find them? How do I go about trying to find them?”
Katherine cleared her throat and she explained, “Well, let me try to break down the process of trying to find your organ donor family first. To begin with, you need to write a letter to the family. It has to remain as anonymous as possible and extremely general. No specifics of where you live or are from and only your first name. I will send you some information of what can and cannot be in the letter. Once you are finished with the letter, mail the letter to me, and then I will try to find the family and forward the letter to the family’s organ procurement organization. If the family agrees to read and receive the letter then their organ procurement organization will give the letter to the family. If the family does not agree, then the contact stops there and I just hold on to your letter. In many cases, the letter correspondence lasts for a long time and eventually the organ donor family and transplant recipient meet and become an even bigger and extended family. Do you want to go through with it? I can guarantee that the letter will get to the family’s organ procurement organization, but not to the actual family if the family refuses the letter.”
I slowly digested the process in my mind. Without realizing it, my body had stiffened and I was breathless. I let out a breath and finally said, “Yes. Please send me the information about what I should write in the letter. I will write the letter and let you know when I mailed it out to you.”
“Okay. Obviously, I know the transplant center is Westchester Medical Center, but just remind me again the date of your second kidney transplant. I need that information to try to find the family’s organ procurement organization and to track the family down.”
“May 5, 1995,” the words escaped from my mouth, and I knew the process to find my second kidney transplant organ donor family had officially commenced.
In less than a week, I received a pamphlet from Katherine that had puffy white clouds and a light blue sky background with the bold and italicized words of: “Writing to your Organ Donor Family.” Inside the neatly tri-folded pamphlet were suggestions of “Do’s” and “Do Not’s” of the letter from the transplant recipient to the organ donor family along with the entire process. The process was matter-of-fact and emotionally detached. I was not the transplant coordinator that had to hunt, search, and sweat blood and tears to find my organ donor family. It sounded so simple because all I had to do was write this one letter. Only one letter. Since I was 10-years-old, I spent my days writing in my journal, letters and cards to family members, and short stories, so I could surely write this single letter to my organ donor family, right? Wrong. Guess again. I took a beating for that letter. I wrestled with that letter as though it were a king-sized sumo wrestler that pinned me to the ground. “Thank You” was not enough and “Sorry for your loss” was heartless. It was mind-boggling to me that the words that had always been my best friends and sources of solace and escape were now transformed into pesky pains. I moved paragraphs, agonized over words in the dictionary and thesaurus, played with punctuation marks, nibbled on my pencil until I tasted rubber and wood in one, and had to go for one too many walks to escape from that letter but then throw myself right back into it.
I wrote the letter in my spiral notebook that I carried around everywhere and that contained my deepest feelings and free writes. I then typed everything word for word, but I made sure to sign my name. When my supposed masterpiece letter was done, I was frozen, empty, and expected nothing. It was now over ten years and in the eleventh year and counting. I always had a feeling that my second organ donor family was somewhere here in New York, but maybe I was wrong and maybe the family had moved to a foreign country or lived all this time in some other U.S. state where they did not want to be found. Maybe they had moved forward and forgotten through force or maybe they wanted to know and were waiting after all these years for every single detail and fact about the recipients who had received their daughter’s organs. Hearing from me was bound to be like a ton of bricks that hit them when they chose to receive and read my letter. I just hoped that my letter gave a shred of closure rather than a surplus of anguish, and that maybe they would interpret from my letter that I was a decent person that tried to do good things and impact people in the best of ways all because of their one decision to give me my second chance of life. I hoped they knew from my letter that I carried their daughter’s kidneys as prized possessions when I traveled the world, connected with the most inspirational and interesting people inside and outside of the transplant community, spent time with my family and friends, and when I was set on working in the social service field with passion and personal knowledge and experiences that only made me stronger. Hope. Maybe. Perhaps. Possibly. What if? I panicked, analyzed, and scrutinized incessantly, but when it came time for me to tuck the letter away in an envelope, an enormous relief and peace washed over me. Now, all I could do was wait. And, I was accustomed to waiting. Waiting for my transplants. Waiting in doctor offices at scheduled appointments. Once I signed, sealed, and delivered my letter to Katherine, that is exactly what I did—wait.
Days went by and I heard nothing. Every night, thoughts of my organ donor family and organ donor intensified. My organ donor filled my head in the bright daytime and sleepy nights with her pretty smile and wide and innocent eyes. As an instant response to these thoughts, my hand traveled to the scar of my second kidney transplant on the lower left side and pressed there for a silent moment as the link among her, her faceless family, and me.
The days turned into weeks without a word from Katherine. I worried that my letter had not reached them or, even worse, my letter had offended or hurt them. I hoped so hard and prayed within everything in me that my organ donor family was found and that they would not hate me for the painful reminder of their daughter whose life was cut much too short at 4-years-old. The worries manifested into anger that I had waited a decade to contact and try to find them. How could I have waited so long? They probably thought that I was some ungrateful and heartless brat for waiting this long to finally give it a go to find them! I wished so hard that I could go back in time and that I had written to them much sooner. I soon followed up every other week or so to see how Katherine’s hunt for my organ donor family or at least their organ procurement organization was coming along.
She was a woman of few words: “Sorry, Mary. Nothing.”
Months went by. I started working by then. My obsession to find my organ donor family had waned, but was still there in the back of my mind. I felt bad for constantly pestering Katherine with a follow-up, but I could not let go.
I continued to call again and again with a pitiful: “Any word?”
Katherine sighed “I’m sorry, Mary. Nothing. You have to understand that it has been over ten years, so it is very difficult to find them. Patience is a necessity.”
Yes, I understood. I really did, but knowing this did not make the wait any less difficult. It was the not knowing if they would ever be found or if my letter would ever reach them that throbbed my insides with pangs. It was as though I was destined to only know my organ donor family through my fantasies and dreams rather than reality.
A year went by. Nothing. The catch about time is that it just keeps moving and moving, and we eventually get so caught up in the routine or often chaos of life. Eventually, my initial contact to Katherine turned into a distant memory and I gave up this silly notion of finding them.
Another year went by. Katherine and I lost communication. I moved on with my life. Then, the lucky thirteenth anniversary of my transplant anniversary came and went in a blink of an eye. I was no longer a quarter-of-a-century years old, but now 26-years-old. Time was marching forward at warped speed. My organ donor family that had wafted around in the back of my mind was drastically thrust to the forefront. They had never left. They were never forgotten and always there, but they were fading—and that scared me. I could not and would not forget them, because it meant betraying them and the life I was leading and living. I decided to start all over again.
This time, I took a different route.
I purposefully did not go to Katherine at my Transplant Center because I reluctantly reasoned that she was not even an employee there when I received my second transplant. Instead, I went through the National Kidney Foundation who I had begun to volunteer for and grown a kinship to due to my TransAction Council membership. The National Kidney Foundation referred me to the New York Organ Donor Network (NYODN) and explained: “New York Organ Donor Network is the place for you to go to try to locate your organ donor family or find out about the ins and outs about writing a letter, because the New York Organ Donor Network is your local organ procurement organization.”
I paused, and recalled what Katherine had told me that my letter would go first to my organ donor family’s organ procurement organization. Wait a minute. The lightbulb was turned on. I reasoned that maybe my letter going to the New York Organ Donor Network (the organ procurement organization) could just as quickly and easily go to the organ donor family’s organ donor procurement organization rather than Katherine as the transplant coordinator.
When I contacted New York Organ Donor Network, I was introduced to the Family Services department and a specific family coordinator by the name of **Yolanda. The Family Services department had responsibilities of follow-up care of organ donor families after that decision of organ donation of their loved one was made as well as bringing together organ donor families with their transplant recipients and vice versa. Yolanda was a soft-spoken and slow-speaking Hispanic woman who immediately relaxed and settled my concerns and nerves I had about trying to find my organ donor family this second time around.
With a soft and gentle voice that was like a sweet lullaby from parent to a newborn baby, she said to me: “Mary, I can’t make you any promises that I will be able to find your organ donor family because it was thirteen years ago. But, I will make you a promise that I will do everything I can to find them and make sure that the letter that you give to me is touched by their hands and read by their eyes.”
A couple weeks later, I received Yolanda’s mail of yet another brochure that contained suggestions of what to write to my organ donor family, what not to write, and how to write the letter. Memories of three years ago when I first reached out to Katherine, received a pamphlet of “How to Write to your Organ Donor Family” from her, and my struggle with my first letter came back to me full throttle. I was starting to believe that second time was a charm for me with two kidney transplants and now my second go at writing this letter. History was about to repeat itself again as I looked through the brochure that Yolanda mailed to me countless times until it was all creased and folded over. A brochure could only give so many tips and so much advice. I had to do this my way yet again while following the basic rules of not including the state I lived in, my home address, and my last name and keeping the letter as general as feasible.
Instead of wrestling with the letter as I did the first time, I took a different and even reversed approach with my refusal about typing a letter. No, this letter was going to be as personal, genuine, and me as possible with my hand writing. This approach included speckled colored construction paper, smiling stickers, multicolored markers, and glitter pens. I decorated each and every single sheet. I typed what I was going to write as my rough draft and, strangely, avoided a war with words as I did the first time around. I carefully hand wrote every single typed word on to each colored paper. I wrote in the letter how difficult it was for me to write this so to make this letter less awkward, I was going to tell my organ donor family about me. With my forehead creased in concentration and forcing to steady my hands, I wrote carefully that their selfless gift was a privilege that allowed me to spend invaluable time with my loving family and friends. I told them about my new job at a cancer hospital. I told them about my hobbies, interests, likes, and dislikes. I told them all that happened in my life and all I did from the way I treated people to the way I lived my life to the fullest was because of their decision and their little girl. This letter was not a battle. It was not a fight. It flowed freely to tell them that I had this second chance at life and “Thank You” was never enough. I ended the letter with confessing that I thought about them and their daughter every single day, and hoped I could do something (anything) to let them know just how much they meant to me. When I slipped the colorful and personalized letter into the envelope, I was peaceful and calm yet again with the knowledge that this letter was from my heart and soul. The wait began again as soon as I mailed this letter to Yolanda.
While I waited, I continued on with my life. Unlike the trepidation and anxiety I had when I first completed and sent my letter to Katherine, I was relieved and felt a strong tug in me that Yolanda would find my organ donor family. I imagined my letter received, read, and resulting in even more letter exchanges with my organ donor family and then us finally meeting and bonding over their precious daughter. I excitedly shared with my loved ones that I was waiting to hear from my organ donor family that I felt so close to, though we had not met. I was shocked and stung when my family members and friends were not pleased or rather nonchalant with this search. My Stepmom and sister, as usual, fell into the nonchalant category when they said: “Okay. That is interesting that you are trying to find them.”
My Dad’s reaction took me by complete surprise. His lips set in a firm line and his eyes hardened with a mixture of worry, concern, and fear. He said to me, “Why would you do that? Why can’t you just let go of the past?”
Stunned and hurt, I replied: “After all these years, aren’t you curious about who gave me this second chance at life? I would not even be here if it was not for my organ donor family’s choice to donate their daughter’s kidneys.”
My Dad inhaled sharply and finally said, “I just don’t want you to get hurt, and I think you are going to get hurt either way. If they are not found, you are going to get hurt. If they are found, what is that going to prove? What if they don’t want any contact, and you are just bringing up bad memories from the past? Sometimes, you have to let go and keep things in the past. You are not a parent yet, Mary. You don’t understand what it could mean to a parent to lose their child and then hear from a recipient that has moved forward from their child’s death.”
I swallowed hard, and bit my lip. I began to worry that I had opened up a can of worms rather than a new chapter of positive possibilities with my letter. Could my Dad be right? Oh, no, what had I done?
I turned to **Claudia about me reaching out to the New York Organ Donor Network to find my organ donor family. Out of all the people closest to me in my life, Claudia would understand because she had received two corneal eye transplants. Certainly, she must have wondered every now and then about her organ donor family, and thought that what I had done with contacting my organ donor family late (but not never) was commendable and about time.
Claudia paused in response. I could tell she was struggling with what to say without hurting my feelings. “Just be careful and don’t get your hopes too high about them being found and what their response may be.”
I gaped at her. It was not that I was wounded by her words, but I thought she would have been a bit more enthusiastic. Claudia was always the voice of reason that I trusted and listened to.
I asked her, “Aren’t you curious to find both your corneal tissue donor families?”
“I am, but what if it hurts them too much? They have already been through so much with losing someone they love. Sending them a letter may bring back all those painful memories, and how would that help anyone or anything? Sometimes, it is best to leave well enough alone.”
I suddenly felt selfish and guilty for contacting my organ donor family. What if Claudia and my Dad were right? What if I was just a ghost that they had worked so hard to let go of, and I was not allowing them to let go? Why was I even contacting them in the first place? Was I contacting them for myself and to try to undo my mistake of not thanking them after all these years or was I doing it for my organ donor family? Why was everyone suddenly telling me to let go? I spent these past thirteen years letting go, as if nothing had ever happened and as if no one had died so I could live. Wasn’t it time to give thanks and face up to the past to then move on towards my future? I was clueless, answerless, and dismayed at the wary responses of my closest friends and family. I purposefully avoided the topic of trying to find my organ donor family with my closest friends and families anymore, and focused instead on my TransAction Council Members who were actually my newest cheerleaders of enthusiasm, encouragement, and unwavering hope that I would locate my organ donor family.
I journeyed on with my wait and search. This time, I kept in touch with Yolanda at least once a month or so to find out the progress and if my organ donor family was found. She told me the very same thing as Katherine said to me: “Many years have went by, Mary. It is difficult to track them down, but I promise you that I am trying very, very hard, and am not giving up. We both cannot give up.”
Then, about six months later, I received ‘the call.’
It was a hot, sultry, and steamy summer day that was meant for ice cream sundaes and sweetened lemon iced tea that tickled the tongue. It happened to be Staff Appreciation Day; Each of my colleagues and I were treated to a boxed lunch of our choice and staff members from a famous ice cream company out in Long Island (or was it New Jersey?) made ice cream sundaes of our choice. I had just finished slurping up my creamy and filling ice cream sundae and was heading back to work from my lunch break when my phone buzzed.
I saw I had missed a call from Yolanda. My heart beat rapidly in my chest. Yolanda never called me. I had always called her to follow-up. This has to be the call I was waiting for about finding my organ donor family. A million thoughts zipped through my mind. How did they feel about my letter? What were they like? Were we going to meet? A negative thought never crossed my mind. Rejection was never a consideration.
I forced myself to finish the rest of the work day. As soon as the work day finished, though, I called Yolanda back with bubbling excitement that my organ donor family was finally found and maybe they would want more letters from me, or maybe they even wanted to meet me.
Yolanda asked: “Mary, are you sitting down?”
I nodded with anxious energy like a puppy dog and whispered: “Yes.”
“Mary, I have good news and bad news. Which do you want first?”
Without a doubt, I wanted the bad news first to get it over with and have some good news to look forward to. I giggled nervously and said: “Bad news.”
But, Yolanda’s bad news was not just bad news. It was the worse and most devastating news I had ever received. She slammed me: “The bad news- your organ donor family did not wish to receive your letter. The good news- we found your organ donor's mother, and she wanted me to wish you the best there is in life."
Wait!!! –my mind screeched. My thoughts raced at lightning speed. I shook my head to shake the thoughts out of my head. This was not supposed to happen. It did not occur to me that my organ donor family would not want to receive my letter from their organ procurement organization. I was supposed to reach all the steps in that explanation that Katherine originally told me about three years ago. I was supposed to someday meet with my organ donor family and live happily ever after with them. They were supposed to envelope me in their arms with a big hug, and me thanking them until my mouth and throat were sore when I met their tear-filled eyes.
This was a rejection unlike any that I ever experienced. The kidney rejection that I experienced just a couple months after my second kidney transplant and that I was convinced was my worst moment paled in comparison to this.
I still had not muttered one single word to Yolanda. I did not know what to say to her.
Yolanda hurried to the good news just before I could let this crushing news sink in. The good news was that my organ donor family was finally found. It had taken her months, multiple databases, and even more phone calls to locate them. She said that the family had relocated for sometime outside of New York state, but they were now were apparently back. My original feeling and thought was right that the family was somewhere here in New York. It was unbelievable to me that they were floating around somewhere in the state I lived in as well. Had we crossed paths? Had we even met face-to-face? Maybe I had spoken to them or met them and never even knew about it.
I was numb from the news, and could not think straight. On one hand, I was thrilled to pieces that my organ donor family was actually found. After all these years of waiting and wondering, I had almost given up hope that they would ever be found. They were not a dream. They were real. But, then, why did it hurt so much to know that they did not even want to receive my letter? I should have been happy. I should have been dancing on the tables and in the streets at their existence. However, as the news slowly sunk in, I concluded two things. Number one was that the fairytale image I had of my organ donor bringing her family and me together and hugging like a sitcom family was not going to come true. Number two was even more devastating and hurtful than my organ donor family not accepting my letter was the truth that hearing from me and my attempt to contact them had hurt them and brought back bad and painful memories. I was that ghost that haunted them. when all I wanted to do was thank them.
All the dreams, hopes, and images I had about my organ donor family whirred in my head like a spin cycle on repeat. Maybe my organ donor family was not the happy family I imagined them to be. Maybe my organ donor came from an unpleasant family situation just like I had. Perhaps my organ donor and I were more alike than I had ever thought and that is how she and I ended up being the perfect match in body, blood and tissue types, and soul. But, no, I did not see my organ donor family as bad. If anything, I was the bad seed for bringing the past and pain back at them. I could only guess that they spent all these years trying to forget the unforgettable that their daughter had died and was never coming back, yet I and others were still alive because of her demise. I suddenly felt utterly, completely, totally, and absolutely horrible. The most horrible and stupid person ever. I never should have tried to contact them.
I think I muttered a “thank you” and “you are amazing for finding them” to Yolanda. Before I was on the verge of cutting the conversation and hanging up on her, Yolanda said to me simply and softly: “I know this is not the news you wanted to receive. I know you wanted to find them AND keep in touch with them or even meet them. I am just as saddened and disappointed as you because your letter was the most heartfelt and personal letter that I have ever received before. There are so many organ donor families who would be blessed and so honored if you were their recipient. But, please, don’t take this as you stopping to write letters. So many of the organ donor families are unpredictable. They will say forever that they do not want to receive any letters or correspondence from their organ procurement organization and their transplant recipients, and suddenly, just out of the blue moon, they will want to receive every single letter and correspondence. Suddenly, they will want to know every single thing about their transplant recipients as their link to their loved one who died.”
I think I mumbled, “Okay.”
Yolanda said, “So, don’t give up, Mary. You can contact me any and all the time with more letters for your organ donor family and I will contact your organ donor family’s organ procurement organization each time that you do. And, just know that even if you never write any more letters, I still keep in touch with the organ procurement organization of your organ donor family.”
Her words echoed in my mind, but they held little meaning and comfort to me. Tears filled my eyes. I brushed them aside angrily. I shut my cell phone with a hard click, dejected and rejected. Claudia and my Father were right. I knew now that their precocious reactions were them trying to protect me from this biting and caustic pain of dismissal. It was not the fact that they were right that made me ache and hurt the most. It was me behaving like a fool and grasping on to false hopes so high only to fall to pieces. I did not wish to hear their: “I told you so” and see their knowing nods that this was going to happen, so I turned to **Harry.
I texted him: “Heard back from my organ donor family. They don’t even want to receive my letter.”
Minutes later, my phone rang. It was Harry.
“What happened?” He asked.
Refusing to and not cry, I choked out the story to him.
“Listen, Mary, it was probably just a huge shocker to hear that a transplant recipient had tried to contact them after over ten years. It just is not the right time. They probably need thirteen years and counting time. It is too painful for them. Give them more time. Just don’t lose hope or give up because they probably will want to have contact with you someday. Just not now.”
I feebly said, “Yes, I know you are right.”
Just as quickly as I hung up with Harry, he sent me a text: “Mary, anyone who meets or knows you is so lucky. If they don’t want to have contact with you even after you contact them then it is their loss.”
I could not help but think- Yes, their loss. But, hadn’t they lost enough with the death of their daughter?
This was a fragile situation with no right answers and solutions.
Factually, I understood their grief and pain. Not only had they encountered someone they loved succumb to an unpredictable and horrific death of a mirror crashing, but it was their own daughter’s death at the fresh and just budding age of 4-years-old. Life was not supposed to work that way that a child died before their parent, but that is what had happened to them. I never expected them to forget and the grief to come to a finish line. To me, grieving was not necessarily a process, but grief of a loved one stayed with us and we could only hope that the grief would subside just a little bit as time went by.
Emotionally, I did not understand how they could turn away from my letter. All these years, I reasoned that they were the most selfless people for choosing to donate their daughter’s kidneys and probably other organs in their time of tragedy, so they would want to hear from the recipients to know that their daughter’s legacy lived on in some way. Wouldn’t they? I never intended to bring back all the hurt, pain, and memories. All I ever wished was for them to KNOW how much I loved them, how close and connected I felt to them without laying eyes on them, and how grateful I was for life. All I wished for them was to be well and healthy, to be happy, to experience and love life as I have had the chance to all because of their choice.
It has been more than four years since I first mustered up the courage to write my second letter to them. Since the second letter, my life took on a being of its own with all my organ donation and transplant advocacy work. I wrote at least three more handwritten letters to them. One letter was written immediately after the news that they did not wish to receive my letter. I poured apologies and heartache in this letter to my organ donor family, declaring that I felt awful for bringing back the past but I simply wished for them to know how grateful I was for them and for everything. This letter was my therapy over the guilty feelings that had originally invaded me. I wrote another letter around my birthday, sharing that I had a great birthday and believed that it was them, my organ donor, and I celebrating my birthday all together, though I had never seen them. I wrote a holiday card to them, wishing them the best of holidays. My last letter was soon after I participated in the Donate Life Float as a float rider at the Rose Bowl Parade.
Many times, I inflicted unnecessary aches in my hand and heart with writing each and every word and letter as meticulously and personally as possible. Many times, I believed all my letters and contact were a waste of my time because perhaps I will live the rest of my life with their daughter’s kidneys functioning in me and her faceless family living in my mind rather than in my physical presence. I use to be afraid that if I stopped writing then I would start forgetting that the only reason I was still here on this earth was because of my organ donor and her family. I could not bear to forget them. I was also scared that if I ended these letters to them that I would never find myself. All along, this search was about finding me through them. Now, after all this time, I know that searching for them and possibly finding and meeting them was not equivalent to finding me. And, it was suddenly after fifteen years of having my second kidney transplant that I understood—my chronic kidney failure and two life-saving kidney transplants, all my health episodes, family and friends, life experiences, and my organ donor and her family did not find, define, identify, and/or create me. Instead, I found, identified, and defined me by creating myself from all the life experiences, the decisions I made alone, and for the people that were in my life or had touched upon my life in some way. I created my own future, destiny, and health rather than the reverse.
I continue to write to my organ donor family on a yearly basis as a comfort to me, a bridge to them, and, most of all, a promise to always remember my organ donor, her family, this gift of life, and everything involved with my second kidney transplant. I most recently tried to contact my first organ donor family from 1987, but Yolanda said that finding them would be really impossible because my first kidney transplant was at a time when organ donation and transplantation was just starting and experimental. My first kidney transplant family gave me back my childhood. My second kidney transplant gave me back my teenage years and now my adult years. I will not lie that I still hope that one day I will know both my organ donor families, but I do not hope this to find myself anymore. I do this for both my organ donor families who are and will always be my heroes that saved my life.
No matter what happens to both my organ donor families or to me or if we do or do not meet someday, I believe that we will forever be connected through their loved ones and especially through my second kidney transplant donor and her fist-sized kidneys that gave me the privilege to create and live my life from here on in.
**denotes fake name to protect privacy of individual