Courtesy The Mennonite, Jan. 2, 2012
This Christmas season, Laurie Miller decided to give the gift of life—to a total stranger. He underwent surgery on Dec. 8, 2011, in order to donate his kidney to someone he’s never met.
“I’ve been blessed all my life with really good health,” said Miller, on Dec. 29, 2011. “I just felt like some people just don’t have that.” Miller is director of student programs at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va.
Miller has wanted to do this since 1999 when Ken Schuler, also from Rockingham County, Va., donated a lobe of his liver to a stranger in Virginia Beach. At the time, Schuler’s daughter attended Broadway High School where Miller was working as a guidance counselor.
In December 2010 Miller started undergoing the required tests for a kidney donation at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, Va. The process took about six months, beginning with the least invasive tests and building up to MRIs and other such analyses. UVA assigned Miller his own advocate to ensure rights and objectivity, and the recipient’s insurance covered all medical costs; Miller only had to pay for transportation.
Because he had been told to expect to be off work for about four weeks after the surgery, Miller decided not to squeeze it in at the end of the summer. Rather, he waited for December when he knew he would have enough time to recover. But barely more than two weeks later, he could “hardly tell I had the surgery” except for a bit of soreness and scarring.
Miller had a good recovery, which he attributes to his good physical condition prior to surgery. He was up and walking after two days, and going for hour-long walks every day just two-and-a-half weeks later.
Miller does not know who received his kidney, as UVA keeps donors and recipients anonymous for one year after the procedure. This not only protects the donor in case the recipient’s body rejects the new kidney, but also reduces emotional stress on the recipient, who already has plenty to deal with. After one year recipients are given the option to contact their donors.
For the time being, “you sort of just hope that it worked,” said Miller, and “hope that they can enjoy their life a little more as a result.”
According to Miller, UVA has about 500 people on their waiting list for kidney transplants, but they only receive about 40 living donations each year. Only two of those exchanges have remained anonymous in the last two years.
Knowing this exceeding demand, Miller encourages others to donate organs as he has.
“If people are so inclined, there is a big need for it,” he said. “People seem to think it’s a really big deal, but it’s not a difficult process.”
Miller spent only two days in the hospital and less than three weeks recovering. But as with any significant surgery, he points out, there is some risk.
“It’s a very tangible donation, even if you don’t know the recipient,” Miller said, that will “maybe even save their life.”