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  • Writer's picturePamela Stockwell

My Kidney's Going to California

One year ago this month, in March 2021, my daughter and I drove to South Carolina to see my dad. At one point, she was driving, so I checked Facebook to while away the time and I see that my friend and fellow writer Kelly Hartog had posted a plea for a kidney. I knew she had kidney problems and that she needed a new kidney, but through her post, I learned more about her disease (polycystic kidney disease or PKD) and kidney donation. Her post had a link to apply as a possible donor.

So what else does one do on a seven-hundred-mile road trip but sign up to give away a vital organ?

I figured I’d probably be rejected at some point, but I could at least try.

Left: Kelly Hartog and her dog Bronte (Photo credit: Ivan Solis). Right: Pamela Stockwell in Columbia, South Carolina.

Turns out, I was rejected. At least initially. But, somewhere along the way, the vague idea of wanting to do something turned into a pretty strong desire to do this. So, I had further tests and was soon reinstated as a possible donor. And the further I burrowed into the process, the more determined I became to see it through.

A cup of hot tea with lots of sugar after fasting and giving eighteen vials of blood.

Eleven months, six thousand tests, and sharing more bodily fluid with lab techs than I ever thought possible (eighteen vials of blood in one morning! While fasting!), I was finally approved by two hospitals (one in NJ and one in CA) to be Kelly’s donor. Our surgeries are scheduled for the end of March.

My kidney is going on a trip across the country and finding a new home with Kelly in California. I am sure it will be very happy because Kelly is a smart, witty, resilient, awesome person.

But here’s the kicker: I have never met Kelly in person and, if it weren’t for the awful pandemic and the wonderful Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA), we likely would never have met.

When the world shut down two years ago, the marvelous Michele Montgomery started hosting writing dates for WFWA members: writers would get together on Zoom, give a brief description of what we were working on that day, then go write. Cameras on or off, but still on Zoom. Alone. But together. There’d be a check-in at forty-five minutes, then back to work, then a final check in after another forty-five-minute interval. It sounds crazy, but there’s some sort of positive, creative energy that is generated in these sessions. I had gone to in-person write-ins with my local band of writers, the Princeton Writing Group, with the same result: focus, accountability, camaraderie. But the pandemic put that on hold, and these Zoom write-ins filled the gap. We don’t do much chatting, but enough happens that you start to get to know the people in those little boxes on your computer screen. That’s how I got to know Kelly.

I did some research and found out that nearly 100,000 Americans are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant and about twelve people die each day while they wait. I learned that kidneys from living donors are usually better than one from a deceased donor. I learned that the surgery is safe (though obviously not without risk), and donors are so thoroughly checked out, they often live long lives well beyond their donation because they are overall in such good health. Who knew at my age, I would be healthy enough? But I was and I am. Kidney donation is not for everyone, but if you’d like to learn more, you can do so here. Donating a kidney can be a directed donation, like mine, or a non-directed donation, meaning your transplant team will find you a match. But either way, you give a life-sustaining gift to someone who needs it.

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