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April is National Donate Life Month and the entire month is dedicated to educating the public about the importance of registering to be an organ, eye and tissue donor! 95% of Americans are in favor of being a donor but only 56% are registered. Donate Life of America is trying to bridge that gap.Kevin Sariano shares his experience as a three time kidney transplant recipient that began as a mere infant.
I was born with Renal Hypoplasia (one kidney) - basically small kidneys. When I was 2 I had my first kidney transplant. My donor was my mother, Peggy. It was a tough time for my parents because they could not take me home right away from the hospital. They could only hold my hand through an incubator because of the fact I was and still am extremely immunosuppressed. I had a very normal childhood like any other kid. Except for the fact that I was living with something inside of me that was not mine, which was keeping me alive. People think once you receive a kidney transplant, or any transplant for that matter, you are good to go for the rest of your life. Unfortunately, that is not the case. When I was in high school, I learned that my first kidney was failing, and I would need a second transplant.
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia gave my mom and I a pager for when they had found a kidney. I remember I was home playing Halo on Xbox with a neighbor when we got the call. We had to leave right away to rush to Philadelphia because they told us the kidney is good for 5 hours, and it took two hours to drive to Philly. My neighbor left, and we were off to Philly. This was on January 16, 2006, and I was just 16 years old. My kidney donation came from an 8-year-old girl.
After my second kidney transplant, I felt great. But I will be honest; I don’t recall feeling that bad when I was waiting for the kidney because my hospital found a donor very quickly. The younger you are, the faster you get a kidney.
Fast forward to my twenties, I was living in Los Angeles and working on the set of a tennis commercial, I was overdoing it and became very anemic and couldn’t walk from my bed to my kitchen without feeling out of breath.
After visiting my doctor at UCLA Medical Center, he told me I would need to be on dialysis because the kidney was failing. I remember thinking “yeah, no way” - very naiveIy.
Eventually, I got into Cedars Sinai in Beverly Hills and found an excellent doctor who saved my life. She pinpointed exactly what was wrong with me. There, I had to get countless blood transfusions and wound up on dialysis. Now I was awaiting my third kidney. As a young adult, everything was so clear and so calculated that it was truly scary. I went on dialysis at 25 years old.
Waiting for a kidney while on dialysis is not easy. It is mentally and physically draining. My experience personally was the worst thing I have ever been through. I was very sick when first starting dialysis. I needed blood transfusions because my red blood cell count was super low, to the point of not being able to move without feeling like I was going to fall over. Everything is up to your kidney transplant team when waiting for a kidney. You have a main contact whom you would call to get updates. They say they will call you when they find a kidney. That call never comes. You go in for tests, and updated blood work and more tests but the call never comes. There are chances for a friend or family member to apply to become a donor, which for me has worked in the past. A few people tried, but they were not a match. So you keep waiting. Cedars has a program called the “swap program" where you can have someone who is not compatible with you try to match with another incompatible couple to have a two-way donation. My dad, Mike, was an incompatible match. We tried out the Swap Program for the first time, and my transplant team found a match. Incredible. It was definitely a match, and we were good to go. My dad flew from Pennsylvania to Los Angeles, and we planned to have surgery the following morning. We got a call the day before the transplant. Our donor’s significant other was in a fatal accident, and the donor, unfortunately, pulled out. Now, you can imagine the thoughts running through both mine and my father's minds. I went into full depression mode when we got the news. From full-on excitement to complete depression in a matter of 24 hours. My dad flew back to Pennsylvania, and I went back on dialysis. We waited I believe another month, and my team found another match. This one was for real. Once again my dad flew out to Los Angeles, and we had the surgery the following morning. The transplant was a success. March 28, 2017, at 27 years old, I received my third kidney transplant. I got off dialysis, and I cannot tell you how GREAT it felt. I could drink as many fluids as I wanted again, I could pee again (trust me don’t take peeing for granted). I just felt like myself again. All the worries I had before going into surgery are now over. I will be on my immunosuppressants for the rest of my life, but that’s old news. Now I am working again; I have a web series that I created that we are filming with a cast (starring me, duh) and a wonderful co-star actress. So it is good to be living where I want to be, healthy and doing what I love.
If you want to make a difference, register to donate! I can’t tell you how many people I have met who are not organ donors. The biggest reason people don’t want to donate is that they are afraid they will need that extra kidney down the road or their full liver. Sure, maybe, but why not select organ donor on your license? You have to die from being on life support to be able to donate your organs. At least for a kidney. It is a beautiful gift that gives the chance of second life to a stranger. You will keep on living through someone else, and that is beautiful. That IS life.
My mom and dad are my biggest heroes. They made the most selfless act a human could do. My mom gave her baby a chance to live, and my dad not only gave me a chance to keep living but also gave a complete stranger a chance to keep living. How cool is that?