IT HAPPENED TO ME: My Sick Father Refused to Take My Kidney, And Now It’s Too Late for Him to Get a Transplant

I constantly think about the fact that I am the reason that he is not living a better life.
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Elle Peters
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I constantly think about the fact that I am the reason that he is not living a better life.

I'm a daddy's girl — always have been, always will be. As a child, I looked forward to Thursday afternoons when my dad would work a half-day and be home by the time I got home from school. Every other day of the week, he worked long hours at his private practice as a general practitioner, never turning a patient away, and always staying until the last patient left.

Thursdays were our days — dad and daughter time, the highlight of my week every week. Every weekend, I'd think about the fun and exciting things I wanted to do to the following Thursday: science experiments, card games and mini road trips to nowhere. Every Thursday evening was Story Time, and my dad would tell me weird and wonderful tales, some imaginary and some true, but all captivating and entertaining.

Despite the fact that most of my free time was spent with my mom, my dad and I had an incredible bond. We were thick as thieves, and our time together was precious. I can't explain how or why, but even though we hardly saw each other, we remained close. This didn't change, even when my parents separated when I was about eight years old. I saw my dad every week and spent the weekend with him every fortnight. I wished that my parents would reconcile, but even if they didn't, I was determined to maintain my relationship with my dad.

After about a year of separation, my parents got back together. Not long after that, my dad was the victim of a violent crime that took place in our home. An intruder assaulted him during an attempt to steal jewelry and other valuable possessions. It almost killed him, and left him unable to continue practicing as a result of the permanent physical damage the assault caused him. We had no other option but to move; not only to another house, but to another city. It was the fresh start our family needed.

My dad began working for the government, in one of the country's largest state hospitals. Our family adjusted quickly. I was now able to see my dad every day, and we were able to eat dinner together every night, like a "regular" family. I was doing exceptionally well at school, my mom was enjoying our new home, and my dad loved his job. We were happy.

It was only a matter of time before things took a turn for the worse again. In 2000, my dad contracted tuberculosis from the hospital where he worked. At first, he tried to cover up the fact that he was ill, but at some point, he could no longer hide it. He was treated by an amazing team of doctors, but was left with permanent damage to his lungs. He had to quit smoking immediately, a habit which he'd had since before I was born. Over and above this, the fact that he had type 1 diabetes placed a huge burden on his health.

My dad's health remained relatively stable for the next 10 years or so. Apart from a surgical procedure to treat deep vein thrombosis in his leg, he got through the next decade without much trouble. We had also moved back to my hometown, due to better career prospects for him. By 2012, however, my mom and I noticed some drastic changes in him. He was constantly exhausted (he slept more and came home from work earlier and earlier), he was physically ill every single say (particularly in the mornings, when he'd feel terribly nauseated and throw up without fail) and he was lethargic more often than not. Being a medical professional himself, he tried to convince my mom and me that he knew what was best for him; however, that also meant that he was probably trying to hide or minimize his symptoms, as his physician later told us.

After having extensive tests run, we received the bad news that my dad was suffering from end-stage renal failure. His kidney function was below 10%, and he was in need of a kidney transplant. 

Without thinking twice, I offered to donate one of my kidneys to my dad. For me, there was nothing to think about. I didn't need to consider it; it was a done deal. 

In order to be able to donate, I needed to go through all sorts of tests and assessments: individual psychological evaluation, physical health evaluation, as well as independent evaluation of the family dynamics at play in our situation. As far as physical health went, the only point of concern for me was being a blood type and tissue type match for my dad.

As luck would have it, my test results could not have been more favorable: I was an incredibly good tissue-type match for my dad, which meant that there was a high probability that his body would readily accept my kidney. Overall, I was in good shape and healthy. In other words, I was ready to donate my kidney to save my dad's life.

What nobody knew, though, was that I was keeping a very dark secret: I was battling a drug addiction. Up until that point, I had managed relatively well to keep it under wraps. I even managed to make it through the psychological evaluation without raising any red flags. I had convinced myself that I would slowly adjust to a healthier lifestyle once I had donated my kidney to my dad. I think that deep down, I knew it wouldn't be possible, but I somehow managed to avoid thinking about the realities of my situation.

In the weeks leading up to the transplant, I began to crack, not because of the transplant or anything related to it, but because I was in a toxic relationship with a partner that did me more harm than good. The timing of our breakup couldn't have been worse. It triggered an emotional meltdown within me, and I began to use and drink even more than I already had been. I was unable to hide my addiction as well as I used to, and it became evident to my parents that I was fighting the toughest battle of my life. 

Instead of berating me and lecturing me, they supported me in my recovery. All they wanted was for me to be well, and to live the way they believed I deserved: a good, productive and rewarding life.

It was for this reason that my dad decided to not take my kidney. In his words: "I don't want you to need it one day and not have it. I love you too much, and I would never be able to live with myself." 

Despite wanting desperately to help my dad, I felt powerless, because he wouldn't let me. Even though I will never truly understand his perspective, I try to appreciate that he made his decision out of the deepest and purest love for me.

It's been three years, and my dad has still not received a transplant. He was on the list, and even made it to the top 50, but due to cardiac and respiratory problems, he is now physically unable to survive such major surgery. 

I've adopted a healthier lifestyle, but it's too late even if he would be willing to accept my kidney now.

I've adopted a healthier lifestyle, but it's too late even if he would be willing to accept my kidney now.

He has been on dialysis ever since he decided not to take my kidney, and it has not been without problems. He is constantly weak and tired, but he does his best to show a brave face. Each time I hear him sigh, or see a distant, faraway look in his eyes, I imagine that he must be thinking about how different things could have been. I constantly think about the fact that I am the reason that he is not living a better life. I constantly wonder how life would be for us if we had gone through with the transplant.

Each and every day, I live with guilt. Each and every day, I try my damndest to forgive myself. Slowly but surely, I am making peace with the fact that regret is not going to change anything that's already happened. Regret is not going to make things better. All regret does, is keep us stuck in the past. 

At this point, the best I can do is appreciate the gift of life that my dad sacrificed for my benefit.