The Dickson Senior Center welcomed a guest this month who enlightened attendees about the importance of becoming an organ donor.
Mary G. Bell is a living organ donor (kidney) and an advocate for Living Organ Donation.
Bell addressed a gathering of 60 seniors, sharing her mission of hope and mercy for those in need of an organ donation.
“I’m so excited to talk to any group about living organ donation because I’m one thousand percent on board,” said Bell.
“I was an emergency nurse, critical care nurse. I learned quickly that organ donation is the only happy thing that could come out of a tragedy. The only comfort that family can have is knowing that loved ones were saved because they donated organs.”
Bell said she had never thought about being a living organ donor until August 2017 when she was watching the news in Knoxville. She recalls seeing a kindergarten teacher that needed a kidney, but it was the teacher’s demeanor that was truly life changing for Bell.
“I thought to myself, look this lady is still teaching these kids, and she feels terrible,” said Bell.
So, she thought to herself, “I’m retired, my kids are all grown and gone, and I’m a widow of 13 years. I don’t have to get anybody’s permission. I don’t even have to discuss it with anybody. I think I can do this.”
She said the more she thought about it and prayed about it, the more she knew that she should do it. So, she called UT Medical Center, and remembers that is when her journey as a living organ donor began in August 2017.
She said it all starts out with quick questions about possible medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes or hypertension.
“If you do have these conditions, you can’t be a donor,” she said. “But, if you pass that, you go into the hospital for a day of learning details and understanding what you’re getting into.”
Bell discovered that it is surprising that statistically speaking, kidney donors live longer than non-kidney donors.
“Once you get past all that, you talk to a dietician, pharmacist, social worker, psychiatrist and surgeons,” she said.
Required tests include a colonoscopy, Pap smears and a mammogram to make sure cancer cells are not passed along with the donated kidney.
“The results were in, and it was a go. My pastor was the only person that knew at this point. Then I told my kids. The girls were cool. The boys skeptical, but that didn’t matter. It was my decision. I was excited about doing it, never afraid, and never wavered. I was 67 years old when I donated my kidney.
“I thought this is incredible, and I was never afraid. It was not a big deal. I stepped away from my life for three weeks and felt pretty good. Three weeks would give my recipient 25 to 30 years.”
One month after the transplant, she met the recipient, a cardiologist.
“A little frail man, and we met, held hands, and I got the sweetest hug,” she said. “His wife said he was squalling in the beginning. He had been on dialysis for six years.
“I was a cardiac nurse, and he was cardiologist. Being a critical care nurse for 40 years, I really feel like I helped a lot of people; but I don’t know that I ever saved anybody. And I think I saved his life.”
Five months after the transplant the two met at a restaurant in Knoxville. “His life had changed because he was healthy again,” said Bell. She also met his grandchildren. She was told that he got to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding because he has Bell’s kidney.
“What a gift to give another human being,” she said. “There are letters from his daughters to treasure, thanking me for saving their daddy.”
She encouraged everyone to sign the donor card on their driver’s license.
“What a wonderful gift to give, but I got the gift as well,” she said. “It’s doable!”
That’s the real message Bell wanted to convey to the seniors, “It’s doable! It’s not difficult. Just two days of pain, a week of being sore, a week of being bruised and beat up, but after that — just a little tired.”