Posted by Steve Lettau on Dec 26, 2019

Editor's Note: This is the fifth annual appearance of What It’s Like, a proven favorite with readers inside and outside Rotary. - The Rotarian

By: Julie Spann - Rotary Club of Fishkill, New York

I had known Sterling for years. He was the president of the board at the library where I’m the director. He retired from the library but was always part of Rotary, and I joined, at his urging, six years ago. I knew that he needed a kidney and that he had put himself on the donor list, and I knew that I wanted to be a donor myself. But at the time, I was caring for my ill mother and I knew it would be too much. Then my mother passed away.

I waited a few months, then approached Sterling’s wife, Chris, and told her that I’d be interested in donating a kidney to him. I went to Chris because I didn’t know if Sterling would be OK with my wanting to donate. I worried he might feel bad about it. But I knew Chris would say yes.

I knew the statistics were against us when we did the blood test, because only a tiny percentage of nonfamily donors match. And I usually don’t have good luck; I’m kind of ruled by Murphy’s law. I also knew that I could donate my kidney to somebody else and that this would move Sterling up on the list, so he would get another kidney quicker. I was going to donate one way or another because I wanted to help somebody. But when it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. We wound up matched for five out of six points, and we just proceeded from there.

In terms of what my family thought, my mom would have been the only one to object. That’s why I waited for her to pass on. My brother was a little bit nervous about the whole thing. But the more I explained the process to him, the more he could see why I was doing it. I was so excited about being a donor, and that kept my friends excited. They didn’t want to burst my bubble.

I’m not a big think-into-the-future person, so I wasn’t worried about life with one kidney. That was never a fear of mine. But I do have an awful fear of needles and doctors. I thought the surgery would help me with those fears. It did not. But it was for such a great cause that I wasn’t scared or nervous. I knew it was going to work out. When it came to them putting in the IVs, yeah, OK, I was a little nervous. But I actually walked myself into the surgery.

It took me three or four weeks to get back to normal, and a good year to get all my strength back. As for Sterling, he’s doing great. He had high blood pressure before the surgery and afterward it went down, so we like to joke that I actually lowered his blood pressure, because mine is naturally low. He definitely has more pep. On the first anniversary of the surgery, Sterling and Chris gave me a Tiffany necklace with a kidney charm on it, believe it or not. That’s the first and last time I’ll get a Tiffany.

I talk to Chris a lot; she’s kind of like a second mom to me. And I see Sterling every Wednesday at Rotary. I love being there. I do think I was influenced to become a donor because of the club: the whole idea of Service Above Self, of finding ways to help people.

I never doubted this was the right thing to do. It was the best decision I ever made and one of the few I have made 100 percent confidently. I tell Sterling all the time, if I had more kidneys to give, I would.

As told to Steve Almond