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Happy December, sweet friends! Did you all have a beautiful Thanksgiving and over-eat as much as I did? Is it bad that I hope you did so that I’m not alone in my pants not fitting quite right? 

Picture-171This month’s Friends First post is brought to you by the darling Ann over at How Crazy Cooks. Ann is one of my blog friends that I made via Instagram, and I’m so glad I found her! She is an Army wife, mother of four – count ’em – FOUR kiddos (plus a dog!), is currently living in the same town where I was born (what can I say, awesome people hang out in North Carolina!), and is just such a sweetheart. Her life is crazy and hectic (as you can imagine with four kids, a dog, and a husband who is away from home a lot), but she took the time to meet y’all today and share something truly, truly special with you. This story seems so fitting to share this time of year, with so many of us wishing for gifts of material things, while others are just waiting for the gift of life. I am so touched that Ann chose to share her heart with us today, and I hope that you are, too.

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Hi, Eat Your Heart Out readers! I’m Ann from How Crazy Cooks. I’m the wife of one pretty terrific guy and the mother of four crazy kiddos. My husband affectionately refers to us as “the crazies”, hence the name of my blog. And he’s right, it’s always crazy in our house, and there is never a dull moment, especially when I’m trying to get things done in the kitchen!

I want to thank Stephie for asking me to be a part of the Friends First series. I happened to get her e-mail about participating when I was in the middle of a cross country move, and for some reason it went to my spam box. Talk about having a panic attack when I finally found it! In any case, I am so incredibly honored and excited to be posting here today.

Since we’re on the topic of friends, I wanted to use this opportunity to tell you about my friend Helen. Helen and I met when our husbands were both deployed to Iraq from 2004-2005. After the deployment was over we parted ways, as often happens with friendships formed in the military. A couple years ago we reconnected on Facebook and one day she happened to post a link to a recipe for these incredible looking cinnamon rolls. Soft, fluffy, golden brown, drowning in glaze, the kind you want to just stop whatever you’re doing and run to the kitchen to whip up. These cinnamon rolls happened to be from The Pioneer Woman’s blog, and through that post I wound up discovering the wonderful world of food blogging. Since I’m the last person on the planet to ever know about anything cool and interesting, without Helen I’d probably still be in the dark about all these fantastic people who love food and are passionate about sharing it with the world!

But back to Helen. Helen has six beautiful children. This is her youngest son, James.

James

James, was born with severe bilateral renal dysplasia. In plain English this means he was born with underdeveloped and abnormal kidneys. The damage to his kidneys occurred before James was born, which means his kidneys will never recover or function at a normal level necessary to support his body. Right now he’s one of the most adorable little two-year-old guys on the planet. And trust me, I know adorable! He’s also spent his entire life in and out of hospitals, eats mostly through a feeding tube, takes many medications to stay healthy, and will require multiple kidney transplants throughout his life. You can read more in this article written by Helen herself, where she explains things better than I ever could.

In November last year, Helen shared something else on Facebook that was literally life changing for me. It was this:

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That blew me away. Math is not my friend, but even I know that’s a really high percentage of people waiting for a kidney. I found that shocking because these people are basically waiting to die because they need something almost all the rest of us have to spare. I had absolutely no idea so many people were in need of a kidney. We all have two kidneys, but really you only need one to live a normal life. My immediate reaction after reading that was that I want to donate my kidney. I knew nothing about the procedure, or the risks, or anything else, but from that moment since I have had my heart and mind set on becoming a living donor.

I know a little bit more today than I knew about kidney donation back then. Anyone who is generally considered healthy and has normal kidney function can possibly be a donor. Thanks to advances in organ donation, you don’t necessarily have to be related to the recipient, or even the same blood type in some cases. The majority of living donors experience little or no complications following their surgery, live just as long as people who have two kidneys, can still have children, and in most cases they go on to lead perfectly normal lives. Donors may have to forego future participation in certain contact sports (so totally not an issue for this girl!), and over the course of their life they may need to be checked and monitored more often for high blood pressure. I’ve read every statistic I can get my hands on. The risks are there, but in my opinion, they’re pretty minimal. And the benefit, of course, is helping someone go on to live their life!

So why is living donation so important? Kidneys from deceased donors don’t always function right away, meaning the recipient may still have to continue or go on dialysis until the new kidney starts to function. Also, living donation is planned ahead of time. The donor and recipient are tested and matched in advance, which of course gives both medical teams, the donor, the recipient, and their families time to plan and prepare for surgery. From everything I have read, living donation is preferred for a successful transplant, especially in pediatric cases like with James.

I told Stephie back in July that I wanted to write about Helen and share her story to help spread awareness about kidney disease and donation. I have to admit, writing this now, in November, has been difficult because things aren’t exactly where I hoped they would be at this point.

My husband does not support my decision to donate and I cannot do this without him. I don’t just need his help with it physically, I need his emotional support and understanding and right now his fears and reservations are holding that back. He’s more understanding of my wishes than he was when I first told him I wanted to do this, but he’s just not where we need to be yet for me to proceed. And frankly, he’s barely been home long enough in the last five months to take a deep breath, let alone long enough for us to sit down and really talk again about this subject.

It’s also hard to write this because I was really hoping by now that James would have a new kidney. Helen is not the type to complain about anything, so she hasn’t outright come out and said this, but I think James is doing worse now than he has been. Among other things, there has been regression in his ability to walk, and back in October he started dialysis. That both scares me and motivates my desire to become a living donor even more.

Even if my kidney can’t go to James, there are many other cases like his. Helen’s family had no history of kidney disease. While there are certain circumstances that can put your kidneys at risk, kidney disease can really effect anyone, any gender, any race, any age, anywhere. The good news is, there are lots of ways to help!

Donations are, of course, always helpful. And it doesn’t have to be cash. You can donate your time through volunteer opportunities. Or you could participate in a Kidney Walk. Every little bit helps!

Helen also has a support page called the Joy of James on Facebook. She updates it often with his progress, test results, struggles, and triumphs. Simply “liking” and sharing the page helps spread awareness, and may even help with finding a donor for James.

If you would like to “share your spare”, AKA, consider organ donation, The National Kidney Foundation is a great place to start looking at information. And if you can’t find the information you’re looking for on their website, you can always call them or one of their offices local to you. Or you can e-mail me! Whatever it is, I’ll be happy to help you get an answer.

Helen is such an inspiration to me. As a Mom of four, I often hear, “I don’t know how you do it.” And I’ll be honest, I understand why people say that, but sometimes it frustrates me. My life and my struggles seem so insignificant compared to someone who has a child battling a life threatening illness. And P.S: This is not just related to kidney disease. Every single one of you who has a sick child is in my thoughts, prayers, and you are my daily inspiration. Yes, it’s hard being the only parent physically present for my kids most of the time. But I am not constantly in and out of the hospital with any of them. I don’t have to administer medication and food to them daily through tubes stuck in their poor, tired little bodies. I don’t have to watch them get sick over and over again, or see them cry because they are in pain all the time. I don’t have that little voice in the back of my mind telling me that if a donor is never found, the worst possible scenario could become a reality. I cannot even begin to imagine what that is like, and so when I’m having a bad day and I’m about 19 minor catastrophes beyond my limit, I tell myself to remember just how lucky I really am.

I really want to thank Stephie and Helen for letting me share this with all of you. I hope that what I have written helps to spread awareness about kidney disease, inspires you to help or show support in some way, and maybe puts James and others like him closer to finding a kind and giving soul willing and able to give them the gift of life.

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Thank you, Ann, for sharing you heart with us today. This still brings tears to my eyes every time I read it! Be sure to follow How Crazy Cooks on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. If you would like to contact Ann for more information, you can email her directly at [email protected]

6 Comments

  1. Oh my gracious! Ok, so I know I wrote this. But now that I’m reading it here along with what you wrote, I am crying too! I think the next time we both cry it needs to involve wine and a sappy chick flick. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you again so much for letting me share this!

  2. Thank you, Ann, for sharing James and Helen’s story. What awesome blogging friends Stephie has. By the way, missy, Instagram has given you some pretty important people in your life. Just saying. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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