A Humble Superhero Among Us

A few weeks ago, I had my second gig speaking to a bursting auditorium of medical students at the University of Minnesota. I’d been asked to enlighten future doctors about my experience living with kidney transplants. I think it’s critical for physicians to see patients as people and train beyond textbooks. So, I’m quite happy to do it.

So much of my story is wrapped in kindness from donors that saved my life. It’s hard to describe the emotional swell that boosted me when my mom gave me her kidney. And years later, my husband offered to donate his as if it equaled going to the dentist. His gesture blew my mind and melted my heart. What do you say about a guy like that? My hero?

But we weren’t a match.

Then we discovered the Paired Exchange Program through the University of MN, and that launched miracles into motion.

This program (essentially a kidney swap), allowed Dirk to donate to a stranger and enabled me to receive a gift from a 25-year-old man, an altruistic donor who I’d never meet. (Transplant centers ensure donations are anonymous.) This young man just showed up at a clinic one day to share his extra kidney. And we were a match. What do you say about a guy like that? My Superhero?

I felt the world’s trampoline bounce us high into the universal energy that connects us all. That was almost eight years ago. And the feeling doesn’t fade, I still gush with gratitude.

At the end of my talk, a dozen students lingered to share a friendly greeting or ask a question. Behind them, farther back, I spotted a young man. Waiting patiently, he rocked on his toes with his hands tucked in his pockets. When the other students thinned out, he walked over and introduced himself. His voice was low and quiet—a notch above a whisper. “It meant a lot to me to hear what you said about your altruistic donor.”

“Oh good,” I said. “Yes, I’m so grateful.”

Then he glanced quickly side to side as if he didn’t want anyone to hear him. His eyes opened wide, and he said, “I’m an altruistic donor too.”

My heart soared. Altruistic donors are rare gems in the world, comprising about 3% of all transplants. (Source: Journal of Kidney.) “You’re an amazing person!” I exclaimed. Then I wanted to hug him, but I restrained myself. I’d only met him a second ago, and he seemed such so humbly heroic, I didn’t want to overwhelm the nice chap.

He softened with my excitement and broke into a broad smile. “I had the surgery last year, but I don’t tell many people.”

“Oh, I understand. But if you think of yourself as a gateway to a bigger issue, you might feel more comfortable sharing it, and you’d inspire so many. You saved someone’s life. Now you’ll have good karma forever!”

“Well, I figure if I ever make any mistakes when I’m a doctor, at least I know I’ve done some good in the world already.” We laughed. And he continued, “I’ve always wondered how my donor felt, and hearing your gratitude made me really happy. So, thank you for sharing your story.”

The feeling was mutual. His story of abundant kindness made my day. And he reinforced what I’ve come to know, the world is a beautiful place when you realize there are superheroes among us.

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