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The Ultimate Gift: The Gift of Life

The Ultimate Gift: The Gift of Life

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life.  And my guest in this episode embodies the premise that ordinary people do lead extraordinary lives. She is the epitome of grace and generosity. It is my honor, and my privilege to introduce you to Jen Carlisle.

Life Link Legacy Fund

Gabriel House of Care


Welcome to the Unforgettable Conversations podcast, where you'll meet people from all walks of life. From experts in their fields to ordinary folks leading extraordinary lives. We're pulling back the curtain every week on sometimes difficult often hilarious but always engaging conversations that promise to be unforgettable I'm your host Sandi McKenna.

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes from all walks of life. And my guest today embodies the premise that ordinary people do lead extraordinary lives. She is the epitome of grace and generosity. It is my honor, and my privilege to introduce you to Jen Carlisle.   

Hi, Jen, how are you?

Good morning, Sandy. Doing great.

 It's so nice to have you here today.  I have long been an admirer of your generosity. Today we're gonna talk about, what I think is the ultimate act of generosity. Something that you did, you're in a very elite group of people. But, how did you get here? That's the question. How did you get to the point of doing what you did? What was life like for you growing up?

 Yeah. Wow. That's a loaded question. Uh, what, what is your life been the last 40 years, but, um, no, I, I appreciate it. And I, and I really am glad to be here and talk about this because I can say this is not something that was ever on my radar, you know, to do.

 I think a lot of us are always brought up, you know, to be kind and generous and how we can help others. And I certainly, was that way,  Maybe to a fault sometimes always wanting to make sure people were happy and taking care of.  I think for me, this was kind of like the ultimate,  what can I do that I'm fully capable of? I feel a peace about that I can give life to somebody. And I'd say probably I didn't really come into that full meaning and understanding of that until just over the last few years. I like to say mid-life awakening instead of midlife crisis but to really understand more about our purposes here.

 I say purposes, plural because I think we have a lot of different purposes we can fulfill.  Sometimes you don't know what they are until they just show up. And the thoughts, what sort of happened with.  I've gone about my whole life, trying to be a good person and being kind and generous. And this was something that, wow, okay, this is a thing. And I think I'm just gonna keep taking each step and see where it leads me.

 What we're talking about today is, you donated a  kidney to a perfect stranger. 
I mean, there's a lot of layers when it comes to this. Because you're, not only,  considering yourself in this you've got,  a family you've got children and a husband and other family that I'm sure had concerns. So how did you, how did you deal with that? Before you even moved on to  "this is something I can do." I'm sure that a lot of thought went into it.

Absolutely.  I'll get to that point because  I'd like to share how I even started on that process because I sort of jumped the gun a little bit and started doing my own research on it before I even talked to anyone about it.

Um, so it was like a, wait, what you're going to do what you're interested in doing, but,  so I'd like to start there with, , just having a conversation with a friend of mine, someone I had met, through work and, we clicked, we developed a friendship. She's an awesome person. One day we were having lunch  and she was telling me about  her sister who has struggled with a few health issues, most of her adult life and as a result, she had recently gone on the kidney transplant list, because uh, lupus had,  affected her body in a way that, caused her organs start shutting down and kidneys being one of them.

So I was very fascinated just by hearing this, you know, this challenge her sister was going through. And she's like, yeah she recently had to have, one of them removed, due to, complications. So she had to immediately go on dialysis and immediately go on the transplant list because she had, no real function anymore.

 When I learned this she was  in her early thirties, a teacher, bright life ahead of her and something in me that day just, just sparked this little like, wow, like that's, that's awful to have to go through all that. I asked her, she said, yeah, none of, none of us in our family are a match.

We've already gone through the process. And so now we're just, we're just waiting, you know, for someone to hopefully be a match for her so she can get on with her life. And that was the start. And I just got curious and I started doing a little bit of research and asked my friend, you know, how does one even go about inquiring if you're even compatible in that direction.

 That's kinda how it started.  And then, then I started telling my family about it.  There was some immediate like, oh That's a big deal.  I think the the biggest question was, you know, there's, there's a little bit, I think, of self preservation that comes in there and, and a care and concern for your immediate family.

So the first, you know, uh, was, well, if you do this, what if your kids need a kidney one day? What if I need one, you know, as, as your partner or your mother or your grandmother or whatever. So, you know, immediate family, like what if someone did need that and you appear you've done and give your kidney away to a stranger.

What is, what does that mean? And I thought about that because  I never want to dismiss anyone's concerns. I want to take the time to try and understand. And so I did and where I landed with that was if, and there's a bunch of ifs, and I know we'll talk about that. If I make it all the way through to the end where they say  I'm a qualified donor and everything lines up and we can go through with it,  If at all were to take place, then I, I fully felt in that moment that this is a purpose that I am serving a greater purpose of giving life to someone else.

And that,  faith would allow me to believe that that would come back to me in a good way. So, you know, someone close to me needed something, and I wasn't able that someone would step up almost like, you know, good karma or something like that. So I felt like there was an immediate need in front of me and I would hate to not say yes to each step forward, simply because of a, what if a big, what if in the future? So that's kind of how I handled that. And once I was able to explain that, I think there was a level of comfort there and just saying, Hey  I feel really at peace about this each step I'm taking and your support would mean a lot, so I can get that point, you know, they were like, okay, we support you.

 So, so the next step is to find out if you're a match, if you're compatible with the recipients. So what is that process?

 Right. So the first step is, inquiring if you know the recipient, uh, that's great. Like you can let them know because they have to be registered at a transplant center through the donor registry.

So all of their information is on file. So basically you talk with a coordinator at the transplant center and they start off with,  an evaluation, just like a kind of generic evaluation of your medical history. Ask you a lot of questions, basically as a pre-qualifying like, yes, you know, by all accounts, you seem healthy enough to move forward in this process.

So I pass that initial evaluation. And interestingly,  in my case,  my recipient was not local, did not live local to me.  She lived out of state and so she was registered at a couple of different,  transplant centers.  The one I started with, was actually in Connecticut. And so everything had to be, via, you know, let me send the lab work down to, lab corp near you or wherever it was.

So then once I passed that evaluation, they basically have to do blood type and,  tissue typing to see if those are compatible. So you do, a bunch of blood tests and what they do is they take that to see if it's compatible with the recipient and so I did that.  And I should say as far as timing, just to give me a chronological, look at this, I inquired about doing this at the beginning of December 2019.

So over the next couple of months, I was,  going through these, these blood tests, waiting for results on that came back, that I was compatible with her, which was like, okay, now this is getting real. So after that,  once you're determined, compatible in that respect,  then they start scheduling the litany of other tests.

So there, there's just a whole bunch of things you have to do. And again, I did these remotely, basically involving around how well your kidney functions at that point. So 24 hour year analysis,  additional blood work to make sure that everything works well that you don't have anything that could potentially be communicable through transplant.

That would be an issue down the road so,  just going through all those different things. Passed all of that with flying colors and then what they do is they invite you to do a bunch of workup onsite. So I had scheduled to fly up to Connecticut to do this two day workup of everything.

And at this point, this is when I actually decided to tell my recipient that I was doing this. So I think that's an important thing to note is, they don't know unless you tell them because of HIPAA and all that. A recipient would not know that someone is going through the process to see if they can donate to you unless you are having that communication with them.

She wouldn't have known until literally they called her and said, we have somebody ready for you. Let's schedule surgery. I had to evaluate and determine if I even wanted to let her know early on because there's always that possibility that something would have come back. You can't continue with the process.

And I had that feeling like I didn't want to get some of these hopes up. Her sister that I'm friends with was very reassuring.  I think this would be, hope to hang onto and everything's looking good so far. So I did, I ended up calling her, never met her, so I ended up calling her and letting her know that, Hey, kind of just told the story, like I had spilled now and said that here I am. I am. I'm ready to take that next step. She was overwhelmed with gratitude and it was a really special moment and, an opportunity to then kind of journey together with that moving forward.  That kind of fueled me a little bit too.

 That's incredible. Now, where is your family in the process with you? Because you've gone through all of this and it looks like things are moving forward and by this time aren't we in the beginning of a pandemic.

Yeah. So a lot happened over those couple of months where I was doing testing and stuff. So, in addition to that, there's, there are a lot of moving parts.

There are a lot of moving parts, so mentally, um, part of the evaluation process you go through as well is a psychological evaluation. Knowing your motives of why you're wanting to do this. Making sure that you do have the support, you know, people around you,  because  not only is this  a major surgery, but they want to make sure that you're in, in the right mental state, you know, to go through something like this, that you have a good support system.

My family was very supportive and I think because, I always gave every opportunity for questions. I said, if there's something you're worried about, especially my kids, I have young kids. I said, if there's something you're worried about or something that scares you or something or uncertain, like tell me.

And if I don't know the answer, we'll ask this whole team of doctors that does know the answer.  It was really enlightening because we were able to be educated throughout, learning that,   the survival rates of  the donors and the recipients are extremely high, that the recovery is pretty straightforward.

That there's no, loss of quality of life for me.  There was a lot of stuff we got to learn along the way. And I was like, oh wow. I feel like if people, more people knew this, it wouldn't seem so scary.  I had a lot of support,  along the way. Just the psychological side of it, knowing why I was doing it, making sure that,  I was in the right frame of mind and I just, I so appreciated that in the process.

 Oh, financially, too.  One of the kinds of misconceptions as I wouldn't be able to afford to do this. The recipient insurance covers everything for donors. So nothing comes out of pocket for you. The only potential financial hit you would incur is time off work for recovery, and travel expenses if that required it.

And in my case, it did  I can talk about how I managed all that later.  By the time I got, to all right, let's schedule to go up, and do this full workup. I did, I flew up to Connecticut, spent two days up there at Yale, which is their medical center, their transplant center.

 That was on March 6th, 2020. That was right when everything was about ready to shut down.  That was a little unnerving. So as soon as I got back the world kind of shut down and everything effectively got put on hold at that point. And you know there was not a whole lot we could do about that other than we'll just, we'll go through all your tests, make sure everything looks good, and then we'll have to just wait and see. So that's exactly what happened.

And what kind of questions did your family have for you during this time?

 Some of the questions were, is this going to impact your health long-term, which is a very reasonable question.

 I learned, no, I learned that, Obviously you have to do things to protect, your only remaining kidney, so no full-contact sports, which thank goodness I didn't have any, anyway, that I was participating in, drinking, plenty of water. You do lose, on average 25 to 35% function, after transplant, which is fine. Totally fine. That doesn't mean that's a bad thing. It's just, it is what it is. And it's your body just readjusting. But overall, that was probably the biggest concern is like, is this going to impact your quality of life? And I can say now, you know, six months later after surgery, it has not. And also,    they were concerned about just surgery itself, it's a major surgery and recovery and, is mom gonna be okay.

 Just more curiosity around the why as well. , I was able to really have a moment to talk more about kind of purpose and meaning, especially with my kids which were really, really great because as we got closer in the process,  they were true cheerleaders for me and were telling their classmates and their teachers my mom's so wonderful. Just the hero. And I can talk about that later too, but that's, that was something that I didn't really expect to hear a lot that I had to process as well. But not a ton of concern. More just curiosity and making sure that they were assured with whatever questions they did have.

So you passed everything with flying colors and everything is a go. Then we have the pandemic and the realization that things are locking down. And now what, especially in hospitals and the medical field, there was a lot of concern. So how far from that early time in March, was it until you were able to move forward with the surgery?

Yeah, that's a great question. So checked in with the team over the first few months of the pandemic. So we were able to do a lot of other things like my psychological evaluation. And also, I mentioned this earlier because I would be traveling there are some great resources for, covering expenses for things like that.

 The national association for living donors, I'm getting that wrong, but, um,   anyway, it's called Malbeck for short. They have, a grant program that would cover, all my expenses for travel,  you know, somebody to accompany me, as well, things like that. So basically between short-term disability at work benefits and PTO and,  these grants, I'd made sure literally nothing came out of my pocket.

And the other really gracious thing was my recipient they had set aside their own little fund too. If this day evercame that they would be able to assist in the event that that was needed. So I was able to kind of like get some of those things out of the way, but, Several months went by and because every state was handling the pandemic differently, especially medically,  Connecticut was like on lockdown and there came a point over the summer, I think in July of 2020, where my recipient reach out to me and said, Hey, She lives in Virginia.

So,  she was also registered at the transplant center there in Richmond and said no pressure because obviously your decision, but would you consider transferring to this transplant center because they are more open and ready to continue, with things like this, whereas we're just still in a holding pattern with the other.

 I totally empathized with this,  putting myself in her shoes, like she's on dialysis every day, she's trying to live with her life. She's been waiting so long for this and it was an instant for me. I was like, absolutely. Yes, I will transfer. No problem. So we spent, the next month just kind of getting, getting me transferred to this new center.

Some of the things transferred over, but I was, grateful that the team at,  Henrico hospital there in Richmond also wanted to redo a few tests just for their own peace of mind. they were extremely thorough. So we started going through basically going through the process. Again, I redid a few of the tests.

They were very diligent. They were so diligent that they said, look at it in a typical checkup this would be no big deal, but because you're going to be a living donor, we want some further look into this. So there were a few things that,  kind of raised their eyebrows that they asked me to look further into, which I did.

And I said,  at any point, this could knock me out.  But I was okay with it because I think at that point I was like, gosh, I know more about my body and how it functions than I ever have in my whole life. And if anything, with all of this, I'll have a great understanding,  of myself even more from a medical side.

So really,  I spent the whole rest of 2020, going through that redoing tests, rechecking on this. Did go up there, in November of 2020 to do my full workup with that team. Which was easier because I was already had already kind of gone through the process before. So I was just redoing it, but getting, getting more in-depth.

So that was pretty cool. You get to meet with everybody, you get to meet with the surgeons that would be doing it. You get to meet with a ton of people that all have a hand in and what they're doing,  in this process. It was great to go up and do that.  Then it was just a waiting game, as far as does everything check out, and then how do you want to report back?

So that's sort of how I got through 2020.  By the end of that, I was like, Wow. okay. Like, I know all this stuff about me. I'm in good health. I'm in good shape. I'm like, we're ready for this. So that's kind of where, where we landed through that. And then we moved through the beginning of 2021.  I planned everything out, like when I'd want to do this when I'd want to schedule it, and all that.

 We ended up scheduling surgery for April 28th and that's when we made everything happen.

Now, when did you meet your recipient?

The day before surgery, I flew out to Virginia. Um,  two days before surgery. Cause you have to go in for post-op the day before and they, you check-in, my surgery was, Tuesday morning at like seven 30. So the day before that Monday, you check into the hospital and do all your preop stuff. So I went up the day before that and, we had breakfast together that morning and it was the first time I'd met her and her sister who my friend was there with us.

 It was a surreal feeling. I, I don't know. It was like, I feel like I'd known her And we just had a lovely time. we decided that we were going to eat the most amazing breakfast because we knew we wouldn't have great food in the next few days. It was just beautiful weather and we sat outside and she had brought a few sweet gifts, funny gifts.

One of my favorites is this coffee mug. She got me that said, of course, I'm a kidney donor who wouldn't want a piece of this. And I love that mug and I still use it today. so it was just a moment just to just have this like, oh my gosh you know, my organs going to be inside of you it's tomorrow since we laughed and we had a great time and it was really light and fun and  I just loved it. It was great.

The following day is the surgery. So leading up to the surgery and the day of the surgery, what is that process for you?

 So there's a lot of prep that goes into it and I will say. Interestingly because the whole thing was a travel process as well.

Like I'd mentioned, I live in Florida. So for me to travel up to Virginia, having had to schedule a bunch of time off work, which by the way, my employer at the time was just, they were so supportive. So supportive even the day before I officially went on leave.

I have to always tell this story. I love it. We all jumped on a zoom call with our normal weekly staff meeting and team meeting and everybody's zoom backgrounds with some form of art with kidneys and it's just warmed my heart, to see their support and their excitement for me. And it was just, it was a great visual.

So it was a wonderful way to have my, my last day there before I went on an extended amount of time off.  I had to be in Virginia for, at least a week, I was there, I think 10 days, nine, 10 days total. So that's a long time to be away from home.

 I didn't want to disrupt, so much with the kids and everything. And I, and we had talked about out, like, who's going to be there. Who's going to be there with me. Cause you definitely need someone to help you afterward and whatnot, but it felt, we all agreed. It was going to be least disruptive to have the kids home with school and everything.

 My mom actually went up there with me for the first half. So she was there with me during the surgery and a few days after. then my husband came up after and kind of relieved her. And then, the kids were with the grandparents, through the remaining time was there. So, um, got there,  got checked in, they went through everything I needed.

 At this point, there was only the kind of people in my close circle,  friends, family, coworkers, things like that, that knew I was doing this, that it wasn't really like this,  big known thing.  I remember,  getting all the pre-op stuff done and getting checked in and going over all the, what's to come and I remember, laying in the hospital bed that night, like nine o'clock, and deciding. Oh, gosh, like this is real. This is real, this is happening in less than 12 hours. Oh my gosh. It was that moment where I was like, okay. I feel like I need like, like all the support I can get right now. So that's when I decided to make a post on social media and kind of say like, well, after 16 months, here's where I am literally today.

 It kind of gave an overview and just asked for, thoughts, prayers, good vibes, all sent our way for, for me and in my recipient, Ashley for just a good, a good outcome. The outpouring was amazing. The support I felt it and I, I needed it more than I realized, I think at that point and, I, I never, I never had a feeling of like, oh God, I made a mistake.

I was even more like, "I'm ready for this ready for this."  So I was just happy to have that support.  I didn't sleep much the night before, but I didn't care. Cause I knew I was going to be under for a long time and then you have all those good drugs that let you just sleep for as long as you want.

So I don't sleep much the night before the surgery, but I definitely had, uh, overall. About what I was doing. They came and got me super early in the morning. They gave me some medication that's supposed to like, make you feel like you've had a few drinks, just like to be really chill.

, I still laugh to this day because my mom took a video of me right before we rolled out. To surgery. And I was just like, yeah, let's do this also. So like not, probably not what you'd expect. Like I was, I was ready. I was just not nervous at all. So that was pretty awesome.

 And how long does the surgery itself take?

the surgery itself took a few hours.  They have to prep me, have me ready. And then the next room next to me, they have the recipient, they have Ashley in there. So they have to coordinate it to where she's ready to receive it,  as soon as it's ready to be taken.

It's laparoscopic surgery, which is great. Cause I know a long time ago it was much bigger invasive surgery to do that, but it's laparoscopic. So I had,  minimal scarring in places I do, but, so it was a few hours. They have me ready and they take it.

And then the kidney is out of the body for less than an hour.  Then they transfer it over. They took a picture of it too, for me. They asked if I wanted Billy, do you want a picture of your kidney? I'm like, yes, that'd be cool. So I got that, and then they take you to postop. So I think if I'm remembering correctly, I was in surgery by 7 45 in the morning and I was out in recovery I think by like one o'clock. But, yeah, it's interesting because,  the urologist that did my surgery, um, clearly I had met with him, you know, during, during the full workup process. And, part of that process is you do, The CT scans and stuff, because they have to look at the anatomy to determine which kidney they're going to take.

 I remember him in one of my checkups. He was drawing for me, like on a piece of paper like my anatomy is like,  this is how this vessel is connected here and yours just kind of does this. And so that'll be an interesting little maze to figure out I'm like, oh, okay.

All right. I'm giving you a challenge here. So it was very interesting for me and I think that probably contributed to my peace is everyone was so very thorough and being like, this is exactly what's going to happen. And this is what it looks like. And this is how we would handle this. Oh, you know, this is a common misconception and they walked through all that with me.

So I think that contributes a lot to my, of my peace through the process. So once I got done,  I woke up very briefly only to remember them being like everything went perfect, everything went awesome. And I was like, okay, great. And then I fell asleep for  another seven hours

making up for the night before.

Exactly exactly.

 Were there any surprises for you, post-op?

  Actually, there were a few.  I will say the team is so good about preparing you for afterward. So just quickly high level. Post-surgery and by the way, My, my incisions were like about a quarter size incisions four of them along the left side of my abdomen, and then they actually had it's about a four-inch incision they did along the side of my belly button where they actually took the kidney out. So the other ones were for the robotics that they used. So the biggest thing was okay, you're going to come out of surgery. You're going to feel groggy probably from the anesthesia, and you're also probably going to feel great.

Like you're going to be like, I can go home in an hour. Like, everything's good. And that's because they'd give you all these, blockers in your abdomen to numb everything. So you basically don't have any pain. they did warn me that because they fill your abdomen with CO2, during thing that, that could dissipate and kind of go up into your shoulders and that can be a really painful feeling of like the gas, just kind of moving around through your body, like yeah, yeah, yeah.

You know, I'm listening to all this. I'm like, okay, sure. That was probably more painful than I expected, but it moved through pretty quickly.  I think the other thing I didn't expect to is they gave me a little patch of anti-nausea medicine, just because some people, get nauseous with anesthesia.

And that actually caused me to have  I don't know if it's near-sightedness or farsightedness where basically, like, I couldn't see things far away. It was very blurry. So I had to wear reading glasses and I'm like, I don't understand why my vision is so messed up right now. It turns out let's just take this patch off.

And as soon as they did it was fine. So it was like, okay, didn't expect that.   Immediately post-surgery. I just tried to do everything they told me to do. As soon as I felt okay to get up and walk around, like, that's probably the biggest thing is walking around because, um, they don't want you to have a blood clot or anything like that.

So,  did everything I was supposed to do. I ended up not using a narcotic because it just doesn't agree with me very well, but the pain is manageable, but I will tell you on day two, I was like, oh my gosh, okay. This is what they were talking about. All the good stuff for off. You can just feel the soreness of everything.

Not totally unmanageable, but definitely. I just was like, okay. Yeah. I just had major surgery. Okay. I need to, I need to slow down. I need to ask for help and let people get things for me. One of the things they tell you is you can't lift over 10 pounds for six weeks. And I didn't realize how many things over 10 pounds I lift on a daily basis.

I was out of the hospital in four days I chose to stay an extra day I was getting used to, you know, you use your core so much, when standing and sitting and getting in and out of bed and that was difficult. so I opted to stay one extra day, but then I recovered at a nearby local hotel, where I stayed a few days, because then a week after surgery, they just,  check you out and make sure everything's healing as it should, which it was,  and making sure that you're feeling okay.

 Then I had to fly home, which, was tough, but I will say one of the best inventions ever made is the abdominal binder. It looks like a corset that just Velcros around you and it just held everything in place, which was a lifesaver, honestly. In terms of being able to move around and cause they don't, they don't encourage you to drive for at least two weeks.

 Just trying to, keep everything in tact and not like helping unnecessary pain.

Now, did you get to see your recipient Ashley before you left?

I did. So that was really awesome. Our hospital rooms were right down the hall from each other, so we got to see each other pre-surgery and then her parents stopped by to see me pre-surgery and the day afterward. When I was able to get up and walk, I walked down the hall to see her, and I actually shared a picture of this and one of my updates, but I got to see her and it was amazing cause when I walked into her room,  and they told me this, they said,  it's amazing how quickly, the recipient, once the transplants complete, and they have this new functioning inside of them, how much better they feel all of a sudden. And so being able to see her granted. Both went through major surgery, but she looked just better.

You could tell there was just like a renewed life, in her face, in her eyes, and her smile. That meant everything to me when I walked in, that was the moment I was like, I, I served my purpose, like w that's it. And she's recovered about the same length of time. I did a little bit longer.

You know, she's like, yeah, I felt like immediate energy. And I think that was one of the side effects for me over the next couple of weeks was all my energies a lot lower than I anticipated.  But to know that like her energy was up was, was very, very exciting for me to see. And so I did get to see her in the hospital before.

 Then we kept in touch every few days, just checking in on each other. She did really well and it, it was just amazing. It was just amazing to see. I was just like, oh my gosh. Like that is really cool to see that

 now, physically, how are you today?

I'm doing really well.  Post-surgery it took me probably three full weeks to feel like close to a hundred percent back.  But I did my due diligence.  I followed all the doctor's orders.  I rested. I had a great support system around me that really made sure that I could recover fully and well. So after a few weeks, I felt really great.  I will say, not everything goes perfectly.

Um, still can't quite put my finger on it, but,  a few weeks I did end up having a little bit of a complication as far as I think my body had an allergic reaction to dissolvable stitches that they use. So those are just one of those things you just don't know until after the fact sometimes like you don't know a reaction you might have.

So I would say that was the only complication I had to, get a steroid pack and things like that to help ease the inflammation and, some stuff that was going on with that.  April 28th, 2021 was my surgery and here we recording this now in November.

And I'm, I'm feeling really good. I feel energized.  I look at my abdomen sometimes and see these scars, and I'm thankful for the story they get to tell.  I just, I don't know. There's nothing, nothing out of the ordinary. I feel like just carry on, you know, carry on. And that was one of my purposes.

And here I am, I feel great.

Well, that's, that's fantastic. And how was Ashley?

She's doing awesome. She's the teacher, so,  it's, it's a wonderful feeling to know. I said, how are you feeling four months out? And I said, what, what has been the best thing? Cause she's like, I'm doing really good. Amazing can't thank you enough. So what's been the best. And she said it would be a three-way tie between not worrying about what I eat, not having a bedtime because of dialysis, and having the energy to start an exercise program or working part-time.

And it is just like those little things, like things we don't even think about most of us from a day-to-day basis. And I was just like, wow, what freedom? What freedom. This thing I did, you know, it just, just to hear that really just, wow. It just meant it meant the world to hear that. So I was really, really excited for her.

Continuing on, we checked in every now and then with each other and she thinks to be living the life, you know, she was looking forward to, and I'm super happy for her. Super happy.

That's incredible now.  You're a real proponent of organ donation and more importantly living organ donation. Can you talk a little bit about it?

Yes.  There are a couple, websites like donating and that has some great information about why living donation is so much better. I do applaud, so many of us that have signed up to be organ donors once we're deceased and that's good and wonderful, and definitely helps people.

What I learned through the process the quality of life for recipients to receive a living organ is so much greater. So once someone receives a kidney and I'll speak to kidney donation, it's not like, and you're done the rest of your life they'll have to, they'll have to do it again anywhere from 12 to 20.

So she'll have to do this again.  If she were to have to receive, a deceased organ that might've given her five-ish years, whereas the living kidney gives you 12 to 18 years, in between. So that right there for me, when I learned that was like, oh, okay. Like that's amazing. The other side of it too is I think it's pretty cool.

Um, and I learned this, through the psychological evaluation is when somebody receives a living organ they tend to take better care of themselves too because that other person is still living and having a life as well. so for me, if that was an additional kind of motivation for someone like, yeah, that's awesome.

 They can really take care of themselves and, and live with a more fulfilled life to know that they have this other person also still living, that did that. But, as I said, it's, it is major surgery, but if you're in good health and you have the time to be able to do it and the support system to do it, I highly encourage it.

I know this might sound counterintuitive to some people, but going through the process, you know, it was explained to me that they dot all the I's and cross all the T's because they need living donors to have a great experience. They need you to be healthy. They need you to be able to go on and continue to live a great life because of stories like this, where I can say, yeah, like it's all worth it.

 It didn't affect me negatively. I've given life to somebody else.  Everything was taken care of. So well for me in the process, and again,  they wouldn't have let me do it if they knew I wouldn't have come out while on the other side. And that chance of, all the, not fun stuff we think about it, it's just so minimal.

It's so minimal. No big changes to lifestyle. Like I mentioned before resources to help you financially if you need, you know, to, to have that covered. I know there's a lot of programs, whether it be through individual employers or even, through your state that will give paid, leave to do this, as well as just being educated on it.

 I think for me,  those were a couple of the big things that really stood out for me as like why this would be, uh, a great thing to explore, in the event that you have that ability to do so.

The selflessness and the generosity and the grace by which you did, is astounding to me and that's why I reached out to you because you truly are a hero.  It's amazing. You're the first living donor that I know. I've known people whose organs have been donated after, they were deceased, but never somebody who did it while they were living. And that is amazing.

 As you mentioned earlier, your kids, what kind of reaction did they have when you came home? That their mom is truly a hero.

Yeah. I think that was also one of the things I wasn't really prepared to hear. I heard it a lot from people.  I just, I never thought of myself that way.

 But I'm okay embracing that.  I'm happy with the decision I made and I'm glad I had the opportunity, so I feel a humbleness about it, but, it was pretty amazing to be seen that way. And so I'm, I'm thankful for that and the results because there's always a risk that their body would reject and you don't know till, till you're in it.

And how would you feel if you went through all of that and it didn't work, you know? What also transpired from this is, is it helped other people to talk about it? There were so many people that reached out to me, including someone extremely close to me that I've known for 25 years, like a father to me that was going through this and I didn't even know it.

 He needs a kidney.. And I didn't even know it. And so by doing this and bringing this to light and bringing it forward, I was able to help him through this journey too.  I've had others reach out to me saying, oh, my brother's on the transplant list and oh, I've thought about doing this, but. I didn't know a lot about her. I had a lot of, misconceptions. What it did for me more than anything, aside from being perceived as, as this hero to everyone, the biggest thing for me was it opened the door for communication and education. And again, dispelling some of those misconceptions being, living proof that like, Hey, you can get through this and you can carry on with your life and everything is wonderful. And now you've given life to somebody else. That's been awesome. I think that's been the most awesome part is just connecting with people. , I had an acquaintance that I had met at a travel conference several years ago, with who I had a wonderful conversation recently because her fiance needed a new kidney.

She was kind of relying on the family to take care of it and then realize, oh gosh, she's the one that matched, she's the one that could do this. And so was able to walk through a little bit of that journey with her and just amazing. It's just amazing,  the connectedness you can have with other people going through things you don't even know they're going through sometimes.

 I think we all can agree and Sandi you'd probably agree with this when you don't feel alone in something, it's much easier to get through.

 It really is the ultimate gift.

Yeah. Yeah.  You think about it like it, you're literally giving you the gift of life.

I heard that so many times too, you gave life to somebody, you give a more sustained life and not at the expense of myself. And I think that's, yeah, you can do that. Anybody can do that. ,

I would say it, at least in this situation, what this taught me, I think more than anything was to trust her. That if you have an inkling and you have a curiosity, it's okay to follow it.

We never know, as I say, we never know what some of these purposes are lined up for us in our lives and be,  be in lock step with like your self-assuredness along the way, educate yourself. It can be really easy to let other people's fears get in your way and discourage you from doing something.

 So I think through this whole process, I learned empathy. I learned, how to keep an open mind and how to communicate in a way that allowed me to continue on the path. I felt led down while also being able to communicate,  the support I needed. reassuring some of the fears or anxieties,  and just being able to trust yourself.

I trusted myself honestly, for one of the first times in my life. And that's part of, my own journey over the last couple of years and then finding the support to go with you along the way.

Oh, thank you, Jen. You are the ultimate unforgettable conversation and I really appreciate you.

 What an inspiration. It still amazes me how humble and unassuming Jen is. Last night, I randomly chose a movie on Netflix called two hearts. It's based on the real story of Jorge Bacardi. And Christopher Gregory an organ donor who tragically and suddenly passed away at the age of 19 from a brain aneurysm.

Christopher's organs were donated to five people. One of them is Jorge. The movie is an adaptation of all my tomorrow's a story of tragedy, transplant, and hope written by Chris's father. Eric Gregory. 

 As a result of Christopher's generous and lifesaving gift for hanging his wife, Leslie created Gabriel House of care to provide affordable lodging.  To transplants and adult cancer patients and their caregivers. It's really a beautiful story and well worth watching.

 I want to share some numbers with you.

 Approximately 106,565 men, women, and children are on the national transplant waiting list.

17 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant. Every nine minutes, another person is added to the transplant waiting list. Every donor can save eight lives and enhance 75 more. Amazing. Becoming an organ donor can be as simple as signing up when you get your driver's license or state ID card.

Organ donation with the primary exception of living kidney donation occurs after someone has died from an injury that results in brain death. This means you could make your organs, tissues, and eyes available for transplantation upon your death. I'm an organ donor. Imagine knowing someone could see breathe or live to see another day because of you. 

  This past week, my dearest friends suddenly and tragically lost their son. Gregory Condesa was just 28 years old. He was born on April 20th, 1993 in Staten Island, New York. Gregory was remembered as someone who was able to leave an imprint on everyone. He met. He was pure love. Pure and utter joy.

 There are no words to describe how many hearts he touched in his 28 years. A short life if measured by years, but a big life in how many lives have been changed because of knowing him. Gregory now will live on through those. He helped because he was an organ donor. To learn more about organ donation.

 Becoming a living donor and steps you can take to save a life by becoming an organ donor. See the links in the show notes.

Life Link Legacy Fund

Gabriel House of Care