Giving the Gift of Life: Being a Living Organ Donor

By Carol Sickler, Screen Liaison Supervisor, TMG by Magellan Health

April is National Donate Life Month, and in honor of this, we would like to share a story from Carol Sickler, a TMG by Magellan Health Screen Liaison Supervisor. Fourteen years ago, Carol gave a life-saving gift to her brother, and she’s proud to be a living organ donor. Here is Carol’s story.

On March 18, 2004, I donated my kidney to my brother Lee. He had been in kidney failure for a year due to Berger’s disease (also known as IgA nephropathy) and was on dialysis. Berger’s disease causes the kidneys to become inflamed, which can affect how the kidneys filter waste from the blood. Since only 50 percent of people on dialysis live beyond 5 years, Lee’s best bet for long-term survival was to find a new kidney. I wanted to give Lee a fighting chance.

Our dad had also been on dialysis due to what we believed was Berger’s disease (it was never confirmed because he had other health issues, too). Unfortunately, our father was not a candidate for a transplant, and passed away in 2002 at the age of 72. My brother Steve also has Berger’s disease, but fortunately he has not experienced kidney failure (not everyone with Berger’s does).

Lee and Carol Sickler

Lee and Carol Sickler

Since this disease is hereditary, you might be wondering why I decided to donate one of my kidneys – wasn’t I at risk of Berger’s disease, too? Thankfully for me, Berger’s is primarily a disease found in males. It also tends to show up by the time a person is 40, and I was 40 at the time. So, for me, the risk of developing Berger’s disease was relatively low.

When I first considered donating my kidney, there were so many questions that were going through my mind about both of our futures, and if this was the right choice for us. However, my decision was solidified when the doctors at UW Hospital in Madison told us I was a match for Lee. And not just a match, but an identical match, with all six antigens matching as if we were identical twins, even though Lee is seven years younger than me. The doctors were baffled by this and had never experienced anything like this before. For me, though, I knew then that it was part of my life’s path to move forward and give my kidney to my brother. So, fourteen years ago we hugged and went into surgery together, becoming connected in a way we had never before imagined.

Today, we are both fully recovered and doing well. I personally have no regrets, and no health issues or ill effects from the donation. What I do have is an amazing bond with my baby brother Lee – the depth of this bond is unexplainable, and it’s something I would gladly give my kidney for again if I had to. Because organ donations are treatments and not cures, the kidney donation didn’t cure Lee of Berger’s disease, but it has allowed him to live a fulfilling, healthier life off of dialysis. Also, this gift of life allowed him to have a daughter, Jazmyn Carol, for which our entire family is grateful.

For anyone who is interested in becoming a living donor, there are a lot of great resources at both the www.organdonor.gov and at the University of Wisconsin Living Kidney Donor page. One of the most important things to know is that as long as the donor is evaluated thoroughly and cleared for donation, they will most likely lead a normal life after the surgery. And should a health condition arise because of the donation, there is a priority system in place on the National Transplant Waiting List so that living donors move to the top of that list.

I’m grateful that I had the chance to give my kidney to my brother, and love sharing my story in hopes it will inspire others to give the gift of life.

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