Thursday, October 4, 2012

Don't Boil the Ocean

Here is a guest blog post I did last year for about my donation and volunteering. Mindyourmind is a non-profit mental health program that engages youth, emerging adults and the professionals who serve them to co-develop reliable and relevant resources. These resources are designed to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and increase access and use of community support, both professional and peer-based. Through the use of active engagement, best practice and technology, mindyourmind inspires youth to reach out, get help and give help. It was an awesome opportunity to partner with this organization and speak to you not just about organ donation, but about the power of each of us as individuals to make changes in our communities.

Don't Boil the Ocean

I've always wanted to volunteer-I mean its good to help others right? Support a cause you believe in? The trouble was, whenever I’d decide I was going to finally do it, I didn't know where to start. There are so many people, places and organizations that need help. So many diseases need cures, there are so many environmental causes and people support volunteer roles always seemed to need more time than I thought I could offer. I kind of felt defeated before I started-how could anything I do as one person make a difference? It seemed like I was trying to boil the ocean.

So I put it off. Every couple of years I'd think about it again, start to look into organizations and where they needed help and I’d become overwhelmed all over again. I just found it hard to believe in the “power of one”.

Last summer I kept getting the feeling like something big was around the corner for me…that there was something I was supposed to be doing but just hadn't got to yet. But I couldn't figure out what that thing was. A couple of months later I was watching back seasons of Grey’s Anatomy and I saw an episode about a chain of kidney donations. One of the donors in the story was volunteering to donate to a complete stranger.

As crazy as it sounds, as soon as I saw that I realized that I wanted to do that-I wanted to donate one of my kidneys to a stranger. It somehow made sense to me and I realized that this was what I was supposed to be doing-this is what the big thing around the corner was. The more I researched, the more it made sense.

After a few months of tests and evaluations (and a few more of just waiting), I donated my left kidney to a stranger in early June. I thought I was helping one person. But I was wrong.

My donation started a chain of four transplants that wouldn't have been possible without a “non-directed” donor like me coming along. I've been told the last recipient in the chain likely had been on the waitlist for a donor for a very long time. I was a part of something that not only helped four people, but had a huge impact on their families and friends as well.

At the beginning of this journey, I started a blog about my experience mostly to help my friends and family understand my decisions. What I quickly realized was that other people across the world, interested in Living Donation were finding it and using it as a resource. On top of that, my friends and family were sharing it with people they know, raising awareness of living donation as well as kidney disease. As my coworkers found out what I was doing, we saw a direct increase in blood donations at our company blood drives (I had a few say to me “I can't donate a kidney but I thought I could at least start donating blood”). In addition, a lady in the US who I have never met has used my story to teach preteen kids at her Sunday school about paying it forward. She told them they don't have to feel helpless-there are so many things they can do to help others and that sometimes even just sharing your life experiences can inspire and help people learn something new.

I think that’s the biggest thing I've learned in all of this. Like I said, I thought I was doing something for one other person. But it’s brought me the opportunity to share my experience and what I’ve learned. Without realizing it, I've been getting people thinking about what they can do to make a difference in a way that makes sense to them (I get that not everyone wants to donate a kidney). It has helped me understand that I don’t need to boil the ocean or try to save the world-that one thing can have a ripple effect that goes further than you can ever see or know. I definitely understand now that there is power in one.