The Social Network

My lineage includes a gene for a condition called polycystic kidney disease. My father died of it, my aunt, my grandmother—many in my family. I was diagnosed in my early 20s and was told, “Either you will die soon or you might live a long time. There’s very little you can do about it.” It prompted me to think about what I wanted to do with my life.

I worked a bazillion hours, knowing death would come some day. In 2006 my kidney function dropped to 30 percent. I kept going, figuring I had five or 10 years before dialysis or transplant. Unfortunately, within a year I was informed it was time to find a kidney. The problem was my blood type—the prediction was a 12-year wait for a cadaver kidney. I didn’t want to face 12 years on dialysis.

So I looked for a kidney. I’m grateful to the social-networking possibilities of these modern times. One email and hundreds of friends and colleagues learned about my situation. As a Southerner, I politely wrote: “Of course no pressure, but…could I have your kidney?” Within four months, a dear friend named Shivon Robinsong called and said she’d been tested and chosen as the most qualified donor.

As I awoke, a nurse was saying something and my wife was speaking to me. I remember my mother and my sister sitting there, and the look of disbelief as they studied me. The family mythology had always been that I would die prematurely. Suddenly, the spell was broken. They were looking at a ghost.

In the long lead-up to this, I’d developed a practice of acceptance that carried through the operation: this is bigger than me, I can’t control it. In my foggy, drugged state I was more curious about recovery than fearful that my body would reject the kidney.

They had me up and moving six or eight hours after I got out of the operating room. I was hooked up to all these tubes and things. My BlackBerry was looped around the bed, and I got on it right away. We used a Facebook page to manage all the well-wishers.

When I left St. Paul’s, I wanted to yell, “I just had a kidney transplant!” Of course, I didn’t want to look like a lunatic, so I did it in a quiet voice, just for my family. But the ecstasy was unbelievable. And the benefits kicked in almost at once: I’d been aging rapidly, and suddenly I could see better, hear better, think better. And no more migraines.

Toward Shivon I feel unbelievable love and appreciation, but also confusion. I still see her regularly. She says, “It was a great reward that I was able to do this. You don’t have to thank me, don’t have to send me a letter every anniversary. We don’t need to speak of it again. You owe me nothing.” VM