Hi, I’m Leesa and I am the luckiest person during this pandemic. If you don’t know who I am, I’m the new host to Alison’s York (her left kidney she donated in December). It has been seven months since I received Alison’s gift of life on December 16, and I wanted to share my part of the story that this blog tells.
Note from Alison: Leesa and I talked on the phone recently, a conversation that meant a lot to me. Talk about a visceral connection! I asked Leesa questions, got to know her better, and have lightly edited her post in order to round out our shared story, and the larger story we’re a part of. Incidentally, I am thriving with one kidney, just as expected.
My background is that I am 46, Korean-American, having moved to the Bay Area from South Korea when I was young. I have a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from University of California at Irvine. My husband and I both worked in Silicone Valley until my kidney disease kept me from being able to work (he still works in high tech). No children, but my dog Princess kept me active, except for my failing kidney.
I had a kidney transplant 20 years ago, through my mom donating a kidney. My dad had died from kidney failure when I was just a kid. I never imagined that I would face similar challenges. Being a young person, I didn’t think about what-ifs. I didn’t realize my transplanted kidney would not last forever.
My first transplanted kidney’s function had been declining over years, but more so this past couple of years. As kidney function declined, I experienced gout, hypertension, and fatigue due to anemia, and day to day tasks were becoming more challenging. I would work out or walk my dog in the morning, then spend the rest of the day napping. I also experienced restless legs at night and couldn’t sleep well. I had just enough energy to feed myself, but sometimes even that was hard. All these physical challenges affected my mental and emotional health. Each day was a struggle and I didn’t want to suffer any more.
I felt like a zombie; I felt like I was waiting to die.
Then I got a call on Dec 1st about someone’s kidney being a match to me. I was so shocked. At that time I was planning to start dialysis and to wait years to receive a deceased donor kidney, average wait time 5-7 years. I didn’t understand why I was getting a non-related living donor’s kidney. I didn’t have a donor to do a swap or pair donation, so I was confused, I thought they made a mistake. Isn’t there someone else who needs it more than I? I felt selfish for taking a kidney when there are so many waiting for a kidney while on dialysis.
There are over 100,000 people in the U.S. on the kidney transplant list, many on dialysis. People who get a transplant have a better quality of life and survival rate; people on dialysis live an average of just five years. Most transplants come from deceased donors, but a living donor transplant, like I have, yields better outcomes.
Each day 13 people die as they wait to receive a kidney. I turned out to not become part of that statistic, because the morning of December 16th, Alison underwent voluntary surgery, having her left kidney removed, after which it was flown on ice to San Francisco. It was transplanted later that day into my body.
I confess that I had always thought that as an Asian person, I would need an Asian kidney. Alison, white, says many people have that impression, and that she is especially happy our story shows that kidneys know no racial divides. She wrote a post Proud of my Asian American Kidney a few days after the hate-driven murders of Asian women in Atlanta.
Here is why I’m the luckiest person during this pandemic. I was never on dialysis. My antibody levels were very high from the first transplant, which means it was harder to get a matching kidney. What are the odds that I would have been a match to Alison’s kidney? What are the odds that I was here at the right time? What are the odds of all these things? All this in the middle of a pandemic. I’m the luckiest person on the receiving end of Alison’s generous gift and no words will be enough to express my gratitude for her gift.
And her kidney seems to be giving endlessly. I know Gloria received her transplant because of Alison’s donation and she is doing well.
There is still a risk of rejection (especially because this is my second transplant) and my medications are still being adjusted, but I’m feeling well enough to do things I love, primarily volunteering. I’ve been volunteering at a local community service agency, doing development administrative tasks at home, and handing out to-go lunches to seniors outside.
Serving the public brings great joy to my spirit and I’m thankful I can now do that again, thanks to Alison’s donation of her left kidney.