Wanting to save, wanting to be saved

To my dear generous, selfless cousin: Oh, how I wish I could
Source: Facebook (names and faces hidden)

A year ago today, my cousin donated a kidney to her younger brother.  When doctors determined that his kidneys were failing and he’d need a transplant, the entire family (brother, sister, mother, father) were tested, and the sister was found to be the best match.

Without giving it a second thought, she jumped at the opportunity.  Keep in mind that, while the rest of the family lived rather close to one another (with an hour’s drive), she was about four hours and a few states away.  She also had three kids living at home, and her husband had been out of work for quite some time.  Life was difficult.  Hectic.  Stressful.

But blood is thicker than water.  She instinctively signed up to take time off of work, transfer her parental responsibilities to others, and undergo invasive surgery to help save her brother.

This unselfish act of kindness saved his life.  In a way, it also saved hers.  Ever since “lefty” left her body, I think she’s been a happier person.  She’s proud and accomplished (not that she wasn’t before), and is a strong advocate for becoming an organ donor.  The above text appeared on her Facebook wall this evening.

* * *

My wife, since before I ever met her, has been a chronic blood donor.  She’s blessed with valuable Type-O blood, which is highly desirable as it is compatible with a wide range of potential recipients.  Several times a year she signs up to donate blood, the only exceptions being those which make her ineligible: sickness or pregnancy.  On one recent occasion, she donated specifically to a friend who would likely need a transfusion following cancer treatment, but for the most part, it’s been anonymous.

She does it simply because she can, with no expectations in return.  She’s got the ability to help someone else, and doing so makes her feel good.

* * *

I’ve always thought that, because I have Type 1 diabetes, that I would be ineligible to donate blood (more on this later).  I’m pretty certain that more invasive donations, like giving up a kidney, would fall somewhere between inadvisable and illegal in the United States (would I really risk giving up a kidney, knowing that mine are more prone to failure to begin with?)   So, when it comes to the “feel-good-by-giving-a-part-of-yourself” gratification, I guess there’s another thing, along with deep-fried Twinkies, that I’ll never experience.

During my senior year in high school, I was the student chairperson of our annual blood drive.  Seniors who were of-age would, by default, tend to donate blood during that day – maybe it was peer-pressure; maybe it was a genuine desire to do good; or maybe it was the preference to be stuck with a needle and fed juice and cookies rather than sitting in class.  Either way, it was something that seniors did, and I wanted to do it, too.  But I couldn’t, so I did the next best thing – gave some impassioned “recruitment speeches” and oversaw logistics during the event.  It got me out of classes for the whole day, not just during an assigned appointment period, but it still wasn’t as satisfying.

* * *

People with diabetes are probably among the most sympathetic to those whose bodies need what others can provide.  We sometimes hear about islet and stem-cell transplants as possible methods to get the body to produce and pump its own insulin without the need for a machine or a AAA battery.  There are barely enough donors to satisfy research needs, so forget about satisfying actual human transplant needs – if that ever becomes a reality.

I know there are people out there with biological needs.  I’m one of those people myself.  But rather than just wait on the receiving-line, I’d love to be on the giving end as well.  I can only imagine how empowering and fulfilling it must feel to be able to save a life.  Lives need to be saved.  I’m not a trained firefighter or doctor, so I can only do this by “ordinary-people” means.

Even if I didn’t have diabetes, it would take a lot for me to give up a necessary, though redundant, organ.  But some donations are,  by all accounts, “no big deal”: blood, bone marrow, that sort of stuff.  Needles don’t scare me, I’ve been poked with enough needles that, if laid end-to-end, would reach from here to the moon and back ten times.  (OK, that’s a lie.  Big needles do scare me, a little).  If, someday, I’m fortunate enough to be given the gift of a cure, I plan to give the gift of life by donating blood – just as soon as I’m medically cleared to do so.

* * *

FOOTNOTE:  While writing this article, I did some searching on Google and discovered that Type 1’s are permitted  to donate blood if they are in good health, and if they haven’t taken beef-sourced insulin (some say ever, others say since 1980, yet others say only from British cattle).  I’m not quite sure why, though.  Are they looking at the viability of the blood or the health of the donor when making these rules?  Would eating sugary snacks before donating be a reasonable precaution or would that make the blood itself no good?  Whatever the reason, if I were deemed eligible, I’d worry too much about what donating blood would do to my sugar levels.  However, I’m pretty sure that the beef-sourced insulin I took in the 80s was clean, considering I’ve shown no signs of Mad Cow Diseases since then.

I’d love to hear from any T1s who have donated, or attempted to donate, blood.  Anyone?  Bueller?

Posted on April 27, 2012, in Diabetes and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Even before I got diagnosed last year at 34, I wanted to give blood but was deemed ineligible because I lived in England for two years as a teen. They take that whole Mad Cow thing pretty seriously which I also find funny because I was 15 and 16 years old while I lived abroad and I’m fairly certain I don’t have Mad Cow.


  2. I’m curious to see what replies you get on this, Scott, as I too have always thought that I’d love to donate .. but always assumed I couldn’t because my blood would be “flawed”. :/


  3. I donate blood regularly and have for years. Our forms don’t even ask if you are a diabetic. They do disqualify for having taken the beef-sourced insulin at any time in the past. My twitter icon @JohannainTopeka is the Giving Blood Saves Lives icon. Firm believer in donating anything I can. Glad to read your post.


  4. I was only diagnosed in 2003 so I didn’t take any beef-source insulin. I have been donating blood since high school. They only time I was denied was when it had been less than a year since my trips to Haiti.


  5. Sara and Johanna — thanks for responding! Do you try to go in with a slightly higher blood sugar, and what happens afterwards?



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