By Marla Blackwell
Editor’s Note: In 2008, Marla Blackwell donated a kidney to her mother. During her first visit to UMMC, her social worker put her in touch with Lee Adams, who had donated a kidney the year before. Adams is also the person who created the UMMC Living Donor Follow-Up Clinic Annual Benefit Concert. Marla felt compelled to help Lee with the event and has been involved ever since. This year, Marla will assist in hosting the fourth annual Night with Nashville fundraising concert on September 8 in Falling Waters, WV. Read Marla’s story below:
If I had been told earlier in my life, “Someday you will be donating a kidney,” I wouldn’t have believed it. Though, on June 18, 2008, I did that very thing. At the age of 34, I donated a kidney to my mother.
But it wasn’t as easy as that. For all the mothers, you may relate to my mother who made it very clear to all of us, three years before I donated to her, that she would not be taking a kidney from any of her children.
Those three years passed on by. My mother fought every day to stay alive, but her disease eventually took complete control of her body. It was early January of 2008 that I decided to do research on the single incision laparoscopic kidney removal to gather more information about the procedure. My mother had mentioned she was in touch with the University of Maryland Transplant Center, so I started my research on their Web site and found a previously recorded surgical webcast of a living donor kidney transplant. It was fascinating and I said to myself,” I can really do this.”
I did a little more homework on the procedure, the recovery and the long-term effects and didn’t feel any reservations about going through with it. It’s worth noting at this point that this story represents my personal experience and my feelings about donating a kidney. It is different for each living organ donor, such as Lee Adams, author of Donor Girl, who illustrates each moment of her experience as a living donor in her inspirational book.
My mother did eventually agree to proceed with the testing, and it turned out I was an excellent match for her. The overall experience with the UMMC Transplant Team was amazing from the moment I went for my initial testing until the day I was released from the hospital. It was during my very first visit to UMMC that I met my social worker, who offered to put me in touch with a woman who had donated a kidney one year ago and understood what I was going through.
That woman is Lee Adams, and every year she conducts the UMMC Living Donor Follow-Up Clinic Benefit. The benefit raises funds for the UMMC Living Donor Follow-Up Clinic, created by Matthew Cooper, M.D. Dr. Cooper and the UMMC Transplant Team implemented this program to provide living organ donors the quality medical follow-up care they may need after donating life.
I was compelled to help, and I reached out to Lee to see how I could be involved. Since then, I have embraced this wonderful cause and it’s been quite a humbling experience to be able to give back and be part of this awesome benefit. Throughout the past few years, the UMMC Living Donor Follow-Up Clinic has been able to provide follow-up support to many living donors through the generous contributions from others.
The clinic provides various services, including emotional support through the availability of counselors. This is an area of the clinic I am very passionate about and hope to see continue to grow and expand. The donor makes the decision to donate life and embraces the experience, although the unexpected emotions from others around them, such as family members, may occur weeks or months after donation. To know the clinic is available for this type of support for donors is priceless. As Lee Adams states, “I was ecstatic to hear that UMMC was opening a living organ donor clinic that would offer follow-up care at six months, one year and two years. The chance to meet with doctors, counselors and nurses who understood a donor’s needs and knew what to expect in our recovery made me feel much more comfortable that my future health was as important as the recipients. And for a donor who volunteers to put their health on the line, that is a very important reassurance.”
Since my donation three years ago, I married my best friend, Brian Blackwell, and we are expecting our first child in January. The experience of donating has been life changing in every way and I will forever be an advocate for living organ donors. I look forward to raising funds for the UMMC Living Donor Follow-up Clinic for many years to come.
The UMMC Living Donor Follow-Up Clinic is continuing to make monumental strides in making a difference in living donor’s lives. I would like to thank the entire UMMC Transplant Team for all their unconditional support and for providing the ultimate follow-up care for living organ donors.
Note: The UMMC Living Donor Follow-Up Clinic was designed to provide basic needs for the donor and any donation-related complication after their surgery. It is required that all living donor programs provide follow-up appointments at six months, one year and two years post-donation. The goal of UMMC’s clinic is to ensure donors’ kidney health remains stable following the donation. After the 2-year anniversary of their organ donation, the UMMC Living Donor Follow-Up Clinic remains available for donors that have ongoing needs related to their kidney health or need answers to simple questions regarding preventative medicine to ensure their best quality of life.