By Diane Bookhagen


Updated: July 23, 2012, 5:10 PM

Three months ago, I was admitted to Erie County Medical Center for an elective nephrectomy. Today, with the exception of a small scar on my abdomen, I look and feel as well physically as I ever have. Although my outward appearance is the same, what has changed forever is my heart.

You see, my surgery involved removing my left kidney and transplanting it into a man I had met the week before. Mitch Stone had posted his profile on the Western New York Kidney Connection many months before. He was suffering from a hereditary kidney disease and was facing a future on dialysis. I am in excellent health, am retired and had considered donation for some time. We emailed each other, I was tested at ECMC and we discovered that we were a match. Little did I know that by giving Mitch something he needed, I, too, would receive some remarkable gifts.

When I made the decision to become an altruistic donor, I was aware of the physical risks of major surgery and ramifications of living with one kidney. As a registered nurse and former living donor advocate at ECMC, I could recite “patient education material” in my sleep. What I was totally unprepared for was how donation would impact my life in so many unexpected ways. Another altruistic donor once wrote that his experience was full of surprises. I was surprised when:

* My loving but opinionated husband didn’t put up much of a fight about my decision. He said he knows that when I make up my mind …

* Through the experience, my husband and I grew closer.

* None of my friends thought I was crazy.

* My Mom and Dad’s faith, strength and support got even stronger.

* I felt like I had known Mitch’s wife, Cheryl, forever.

* I found out how good a pre-op hug from Mitch felt.

* My sons showed compassion and pride that overwhelmed me.

* My sister’s nurse/angel wings grew even bigger and brighter.

* I found out how good a post-op shower and new white bathrobe could feel.

* My friends at ECMC went above and beyond to care for me and protect my peace and privacy.

* I found out how good a post-op hug from Mitch’s family felt.

* My brother-in-law said he was proud of me on Facebook.

* My stoic teenage godson lent me the stuffed dog I got him when he broke his leg.

* My husband continued to go above and beyond to take care of me and our home as I recovered.

* I missed Mitch as soon as we left ECMC.

I don’t know what Mitch experienced with his illness before accepting my gift to him. We haven’t had the opportunity to talk much since the surgery. I know he is recovering well. I hope that his new kidney will help him have and share a better life with his family.

There is no way to measure what I have gained through all of this. I know my heart will continue to be open to whatever God’s plan is for me from now on. For all of it, I am forever grateful to Mitch.

There are thousands of people like Mitch in Western New York in need of a kidney. We are fortunate to have a state-of-the-art facility right here in Buffalo that performs transplant surgeries. Living donation is a safe, highly successful and incredibly rewarding experience. I would encourage anyone interested in more information to visit