One for the "Animal rights activists don’t care about people!" crowd.

January 19th, 2009 7:38 pm by Kelly Garbato

Via the Lantern Books blog, I learned that author/activist Hillary Rettig – whose book, The Lifelong Activist, I had the pleasure of reviewing a few years back – donated a kidney, unbidden, to a complete stranger.

She details her story over at The GirlieGirl Army, in a humorous post titled “Kidney Karmarama, or… How My Kidney Found Mr. Right”:

What’s the awesomest gift you can give someone? Their life back, right?

That’s what I had been thinking for a while. And so, I had been looking into donating a kidney. From my research I knew that the surgery was really safe (only 2/10,000 fatality rate, lower than for appendectomies), and that you can survive perfectly well with just one kidney. Really what you’re looking at is a bit of inconvenience in exchange for…saving someone’s life.

Sign me up!

My research eventually led me to a popular site called matchingdonors.com, and even though I knew what I was going to find there, I was NOT prepared. It’s like a dating site, except the personal ads are all from people begging you to save their lives by giving them a kidney. So it’s full of messages like:

“I’m 40 years old and want to live to see my kids grow up.”

“I’m 60 years old and hoping to live to attend my grandson’s graduation.”

“I’m 25 years old and just want the chance to live a normal life.”

Heartbreaking doesn’t begin to describe it. Most of these people were on dialysis, where, three times a week, you sit for hours hooked up to a machine that does the kidney-work of filtering out waste from your blood. Dialysis is, at best, a mixed blessing: it keeps you alive, but totally screws up your life and doesn’t even work all that well. Most dialysis patients are weak and sick all the time, and die within a few short years.

Once I saw the matching donors ads, I knew I would have to donate – how can you turn someone away when you’ve seen their face and heard their desperate story? In fact, I wished I had a thousand extra kidneys to donate. But I only had one, so how to choose?

Lots of the people self-identified as animal lovers, with some including photos of themselves with their companion animals in their ads. As a vegan and animal/veg activist I knew I would definitely want to donate to one of them. And then I came across an ad without a picture that included this text:

“I am a retired Veterinarian from Colorado. My wife and I started a no-kill animal shelter 20 years ago to give animals a second chance at life. I would like a second chance too. We have invested everything to help save the animals.”

My kidney starting singing sweet songs of love, having found its dream recipient. His name is Bill Suro, and the shelter he and his wife Nanci started in Denver is called MaxFund. They save sweeties like Millie, a dog who was found in New Mexico with anemia, a fused spine, grossly infected back feet, and (rage alert) BB shots embedded throughout her body. Many shelters would have euthanized her, but at Maxfund she got all the medical help she needed and is now whizzing around in a rollie cart! (See her story here; joyful weeping alert.)

So I called Bill and offered to donate.

Hillary pretty much blows the “Animal rights activists don’t care about people!” stereotype out of the water – heck, out of the Earth’s atmosphere and onto the surface of Mars! An organ is one of the most precious gifts you could possibly give someone, and Hillary gifted hers to a veritable stranger. It’s humbling, really. I’d like to know how many meat-eaters have done the same – particularly those trotting out tired stereotypes about “misanthropic vegans.”

To head off a possible criticism – namely, that Hillary’s method for choosing a recipient is selfish inasmuch as she selected a fellow animal activist, let me ask you this: When there are so very many people in need of a kidney, how else to choose a recipient? Of course Hillary browsed through the biographies and selected the person who she thought was the most deserving candidate. Nor is this any more selfish than donating to a family member. Truth be told, where there is so much need, you prioritize. Bill’s story spoke to Hillary, and she responded. Similarly, feminists may select women with exceptional life stories, or who have taken action to better the lot of women; Christians may choose recipients who share their religious beliefs; and fathers might choose to donate to young men with wives and children. The very existence of a site like matchingdonors.com speaks to this tendency.

Hillary ends her story with a call to action:

As conscripts in the GirlieGirl Army, we all know that there is nothing more glamorific than saving a sweet life. At the same time, I know that not everyone’s going to sign up to donate. If you’re one who might, that would be an amazing thing – and email me at lifelongactivist [at] yahoo.com for info or support, if you’d like. In the U.S. alone, more than 6,000 people every year, or around 1 every 90 minutes, dies waiting for a
kidney.

And if you can’t donate your kidney, at least donate some cash to Maxfund!

You can also leave a word of encouragement here.

(Crossposted to.)

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