Donna Nakayama

My name is Donna Nakayama and on May 5, 2016, I will be a 5 year kidney transplant survivor. 

In 1974 I was diagnosed with Lupus Nephritis.  So, began my kidney failure journey.   I thought I was a healthy, athletic female in my 20’s.  No way could I have kidney problems. What? Stay out of the sun?  No way, I was an active two-man (woman) volleyball player traveling around the state of Colorado to participate in any volleyball tournament I could find with my volleyball partner.  Two man volleyball, played outside under the mile hi sun every day of the week. 

Several years passed and in 2008 with bi-monthly doctors appointments, I was told that it was time to be tested to be put on the transplant list. Between Lupus Nephritis and age, my kidneys were beginning to fail and have less and less function. Several words started going through my head…transplant, dialysis, death…  Okay, I had lived what I thought was a normal and full life.  Sure one airlift from Jackson Hole, Wyoming because of a lupus flare, but I survived and was still as athletic as always.  I had decided that I would never experience dialysis.  I was too active to be hooked up to a machine several hours a day, several days a week.  I would leave this life doing everything I could for as long as I could.  Someone else with a family and kids could use that kidney more than me.  Then I heard a friend of mine had gone through a multi-organ transplant due to PKD and was going to participate in something called the Transplant Games.  I would go to the Transplant Games to support him and volunteer to help and interact with these “athletes”.  This was the best decision of my life. This moving event introduced me to the transplant world.   I found that this “Olympic” event was not about going for the gold, but about how precious life is.  Children and adults, transplant donors and recipients of all ages participating in different events; i.e., bowling, basketball, volleyball, track and field, golf, bicycling and several other sports.  All just happy to be alive and having a second chance at life.  I had decided that there is life after transplant and I would stay active on the transplant list.

On May 4, 2011, I received the call (actually my third call, but I was out of town for the first two).  Get the bags packed and be at the hospital by this evening. Usually, they will take someone that needs a kidney and pancreas first, then the next person will get the remaining kidney. I was third on the recipient list for this kidney, so I was trying not to get my hopes up. This was a healthy, but large kidney from a. 35 year old male.  Unfortunately, or fortunately for me, the kidney/pancreas match did not work out so I was getting a healthy kidney the next morning.  The transplant was a success and I have the best kidney function in my life.  Since the transplant I have participated in two Donate Life Transplant Games of America.  Through the games I have made several friendships with other transplant affiliated people throughout the United States.

Not a day goes by that I do not wake up and thank my donor and his family for making the hardest decision a person will probably ever have to make. I have written to my donor family to let them know that I will never take this “gift of life” for granted.  I always take care of myself and will always remember the selfless act of kindness of my donor family.  I hope, one of these days, when the time is right, and they are ready,  I will be able to meet them.

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