April is Donate Life month. To understand what that means to me, you must believe in miracles.
Four months ago, we moved to Mooresville from cold and snowy Minnesota. My husband's job transferred us, but he tells everyone it's because my "old" kidney missed me and wanted me nearby.
Yes, my "old" kidney. I was a living kidney donor to my sister, JoAnn Villanueva, who lives in Huntersville.
A miracle of modern medicine - kidney transplant - performed six years ago saved her life. Now, my "old" kidney happily resides and pumps the magic we call life in my sister's body.
Organ donation has become commonplace, almost routine to the media, but without organ donation, I would not have a family: All because my family has lousy kidneys.
We're an Irish Catholic family from the South Side of Chicago with a genetic disease called polycystic kidney disease (PKD). It is the most common genetic life threatening disease. PKD affects more people than cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia, Down syndrome and sickle cell anemia - combined. There is no cure. The only treatment is dialysis and/or a transplant.
Our other sister, Janice, has the disease. She, too, had a kidney transplant. She received a kidney 16 years ago from a 12-year-old girl who died in an accident. Her family, despite heartbreaking grief, donated her organs so my sister could live. Another miracle blessed us.
Our mother had the disease, too. On St. Patrick's Day 1988, after waiting two years on the transplant waiting list, our mother received a kidney transplant in Chicago. Mom never doubted her kidney transplant that day was a miracle sent from heaven.
She became "an organ donor leprechaun" and encouraged everyone to consider organ donation in the event of a sudden or unexpected death. She was able to live another 15 years and see her granddaughters grow up because a 42-year-old man was an organ donor.
We have had eight deaths in our family because of PKD; 19 family members have been diagnosed with the disease. One of our cousins died while waiting on the transplant waiting list. Today, there are more than 106,000 people waiting for a life-saving transplant. You are more likely to know someone who needs a life-saving transplant than to be an organ donor.
I was lucky because I did not inherit the disease. I knew there were not enough donors, so I chose to become a living donor. It is an intensely personal decision and I do not ever endorse it for others.
I was the "reluctant donor."
I am afraid of needles, hospitals and faint at the sight of blood, but I'm glad I found courage.
My sister lives. It's fun to be in North Carolina together. Another miracle.
I share our family's story to celebrate the miracle of organ donation and remind everyone to cherish life.