One of the more rewarding aspects of my job as a partner with Baker Tilly is the opportunity to attend many business and civic events within the Madison (Wis.) community. This allows me to go to events that often feature outstanding speakers. I enjoy these outings; they fulfill a professional curiosity to learn something new. It was one of these events that led to my decision to donate a kidney through the University of Wisconsin (UW) Hospital and Clinics’ organ transplant program.
In the fall of 2009, a monthly breakfast meeting of Downtown Madison Inc. showcased speakers from the National Kidney Foundation and the UW transplant team, who spoke about the U.S. Transplant Games. The games, which were scheduled in Madison during the summer of 2010, are four days of Olympic-type competitions, open to any athlete who has received a lifesaving organ transplant. I was surprised to learn that, at any given time, about 100,000 people are on a waiting list to receive a transplant. About 80% of them need a kidney.
I guess the enormity of the problem weighed on me. Over the years, I’ve experimented with different ways of giving back and helping others. A few days after that breakfast, I went online to the UW transplant website to research kidney transplantation, especially from the donor’s perspective. I wanted to know, “Did donating shorten life span? Would it compromise my quality of life? What were the risks?”
Through my research I learned that UW medical transplant teams perform about 300 kidney transplants a year. About 200 of the donated kidneys are from deceased donors. More than 90 are from living donors, such as siblings or parents. The remaining few are from “humanitarian” donors, a nice way of saying living strangers.
I let the idea of becoming a humanitarian donor percolate for a while. In April I finally contacted the UW transplant office to begin the process of becoming a donor. That meant blood work, a CT scan, other tests, and lots of conversations with psychologists and sociologists, who made sure I was of sound mind and understood what I was doing.
Aside from my wife, Linda (who was concerned about the risks but was resigned to my decision), I didn’t tell anyone—not friends, colleagues or even our three adult children—about my decision until two days before I went into the hospital. I didn’t want people “admiring” me for doing this; I wasn’t doing it for my ego. I was doing it to help solve a problem.
On Dec. 10, 2010, I got a call that my kidney was needed on Dec. 16. Despite all the preparation and testing, I still went to the hospital rather naively: I honestly believed I would be discharged from the hospital in two days, even though I was told it would be three or four. Unfortunately, I experienced some painful complications. The normal three-hour surgery lasted six, and I had to remain in the hospital for almost a week. Thankfully, once I came home, my health accelerated very quickly to full recovery.
What I really underestimated was the reaction of folks. I can’t tell you how many heartwarming cards, letters, e-mails and conversations I received. I also can’t say enough about the support I received from Baker Tilly. I can truly say that my firm lives by the values of integrity, passion and stewardship. To the firm, donating a kidney was a form of giving back.
Giving the gift of life to someone I may never meet is a marvelous feeling and puts things in perspective. I encourage others to consider giving this gift, but I know that not everyone can. The next best thing? Put that sticker on your driver’s license, designate yourself an organ donor, and register online at donatelife.net.
—As told to Linda Segall, firstname.lastname@example.org,
a freelance writer from Jacksonville, Fla.
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