KidFam!

An AMAZING night with my kidney family! Many converged on Palm Desert for Coachella, so Emory flew down and we drove out this morning. Our first time meeting the spectacular Bree, the altruistic donor who.started the chain that saved my life and Heather’s. Very fun and emotional time with these lovely folks who truly are family.

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deepBreath

Biopsy report: The kidney is VERY happy. (Thanks Glenn for such a great one!) No signs of rejection. No abnormal scarring.  One year is a big milestone that I am thankful for. (Last biopsy will be at the 2-year mark.)

SO thankful to God for His grace and sustenance; to Stacy for her undying love and advocacy; my family for helping me feel normal (well, Atkinson normal) through this; my other kidney chain family members; and to our church, my work, and all our friends for your massive support and prayers.

Now, excuse me while I fully embrace this wonderful life I’ve been gifted.

The Kidney Poem

This was written by the wonderful man that I got my new kidney from, Glenn ‘Croc’ Millar. Perfection!

We have a lot of body parts
And many come in pairs
Arms and legs and lungs and eyes
And yet we cannot share

But then there are your kidneys
And it is now well known
That this amazing organ
Works quite well alone

Which means that if you have a friend
Who needs a new kid-ney.
You can give him one of yours
And again, he’ll get to pee.

Donating is easy
You’ll never miss this part
And you’ll get something in return
A piece of someone’s heart.

ONE-YEAR KIDNEYVERSARY!

That’s right, one year ago today I received my new kidney that saved my life. How can it feel like 10 years ago AND yesterday?? I’m much more emotional than I thought I’d be – have been for a few days. It’s been a long 3-year journey – autoimmune disease diagnosis, treatment, kidney failure, dialysis, transplant, rejection, treatment, recovery. But those are just steps along the way.

Here are two much more important elements of my journey:

People – my Angel Wife, Stacy (without whom I would not be alive), my children, extended family, friends, church, work, medical professionals, fellow patients – and, of course, my partners in our amazing Kidney Chain: Amy, who’s death from cystic fibrosis inspired cousin Breelynn Horn to be an altruistic kidney donor; Heather Kantor who received Breelyn’s kidney; Emory Fuqua who donated her kidney on my behalf to Laurie Dietrichson Troxell in Colorado; and my brother-from-another-mother, Glenn Croc Millar, who donated on behalf of Heather, and gave me his kidney. (I know that’s confusing – here’s a better explanation)

Impact – people have been asking me a legitimate question: Am I glad 2016 is almost over? First, I’m typically not one to regret. What happens happens – it’s our response to it that matters. Second, every step along this journey has become part of my DNA. It has imprinted the experiences on my spirit. It has fundamentally changed me in so many ways. My perspective on life and the future has been transformed. God has worked each step for my good, who is more concerned with my inside (WHO I am) rather than all the outside parts working right.

All signs point to my new kidney doing great. I’ll have my one-year biopsy next week to confirm. Recovery from the rejection treatments and my body just getting used to this new normal has been a sloooow process. I’ve only started to feel significant improvements in my strength and stability over the last 5 weeks, which made for a much happier Christmas.

We are so thankful to God for His grace and mercy through this, and to all our friends around the world for their support and prayers.

I said YES!

BLOWN away!! Got a package tonight, opened it, and see this beautiful invitation to perform the wedding for Greg & Emory! Emory is the amazing person who donated her kidney so I could get the kidney I needed. I am so honored and overwhelmed. They got me good!! (And check out the PERFECT cuff links they gave me for the wedding – last pic.)

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Greg & Emory with a pic of her donated kidney

One More Squeeze

One last squeeze with my angel donor Emory yesterday before she headed home to San Jose. After her post-op appointment, she and her mom Karen came over for lunch. So how do you say thanks to someone who saved your life? It is quite the challenge. Not sure if I can ever fully accomplish that. So, for now, I love you.

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A Chain of Love or How to Save Five Lives

I am honored and humbled to be a part of an amazing chain of kidney donors and recipients. The story behind this chain is compelling and inspiring and I just have to share it with you. Would you please share it with your friends?

All about Amy’s Legacy

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Amy Ladenberger

This chain of life unfortunately begins with death. The lovely Amy Ladenberger was born with Cystic Fibrosis in Michigan and wasn’t expected to live for 10 years. Beating the odds, she not only lived but helped others with CF, talking many off the ledge, considering suicide. In her 20s Amy had to have a double lung transplant. Unfortunately, despite the transplant, Amy left this world 9 months later, leaving a huge void in her family’s life.

Breelynn Horn

11202964_1051308701580933_5861661768716442328_nOne family member who felt that void at her core was Breelynn Horn, Amy’s cousin. Bree, also in Michigan,  went to her doctor and wanted to help someone else to honor the memory of her cousin. Her doctor recommended she donate a kidney because of the incredible need. (22 people die each day while waiting for a transplant.) She agreed but was too young at the time. When she was 20, she passed all the tests and went in to the national database as an altruistic donor. And she waited.

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Enter Heather Kantor, at one time the literal poster child for kidney transplants in San Francisco. She was a firefighter for many years and when working the line of a wildfire, her kidneys failed due to exhaustion and dehydration. She received a kidney from her stepmother, but it only lasted five years. So she had to retire early – with incredible support from her fellow firefighters – moved in with her mom, and went on dialysis for three years. She was having difficulties finding a donor, until…

Glenn “Croc” Millar

12440476_10208003430144515_340892673853007749_oGlenn was on an adventure vacation in Iceland with a big group of friends. While Glenn didn’t know Heather, many of those friends did know her and talked about her plight often during the trip. Glenn had actually looked into donating a kidney a couple years earlier but it just didn’t work out.

When he returned home to the Bay Area from the trip, Glenn found Heather on Facebook and sent her a message that basically said: “Hi, you don’t know me but I’d like to give you a kidney. Why? Because many of the people I love, love you.”
Glenn passed all the tests, but he was not a match for Heather.

Fortunately they were placed in Paired Donor Exchange, a brilliant program that now allowed Glenn to donate to someone else so Heather could get the kidney she needed.

The national database matched Heather with Bree – in fact, they said it was like they were sisters, the match was that perfect. That transplant happened September 2015.

It wasn’t quite as easy to match Glenn. He didn’t match two other potential recipients. Then along came…

Mike Atkinson

892095_10153264191063016_8664511421288551338_oIn San Diego Mike was diagnosed January 2014 with IGA Nephropathy, an autoimmune disease that attacks the kidneys.  He was given the standard, brutal steroid therapy for 6 months, which only slowed the disease but didn’t reset it like his doctors hoped it would. So it came back with a vengeance and his nephrologist starting uttering the “T” word.

As his kidneys reached failure last spring, he felt what the process of dying was like, and didn’t like it. He started dialysis in March, which helped keep him alive but brought its own list of complications and issues.

Early June he was approved for the transplant list and was speedlisted because so many factors were perfect.

When Mike first brought up the need for a transplant to his friends and family, Emory, was the first to volunteer. In 2003 Mike’s son and Em’s boyfriend at the time deployed with the Marines to Iraq and he and she met in an online family support group. Not long after that she was hanging out with his family most days, going on family trips, and became an honorary Atkinson – a cherished “adopted” daughter. She later moved to northern California, but she and the Atkinsons stayed in touch.

Emory Fuqua

1557494_10152199622377474_1728514698_nEmory, also from the Bay Area, was SO motivated to donate, she got the mountains of applications and tests done in swift fashion. But when Scripps’ transplant committee evaluated her and Mike, they determined they were not a match. So they put them on the Paired Donor Exchange list. (Read Emory’s awesome blog chronicling her experience as a live donor.)

One of the committee members mentioned Glenn (who was already in Scripps’ system) and sure enough, he was a great match for Mike. Scripps scheduled the transplant for December 29, and also scheduled Emory’s donation the same day. Her kidney would be flown to a recipient in Colorado!

And the chain continued…that Colorado recipient also had a donor who wasn’t a match. That person’s kidney was donated and flown to a recipient in Michigan. And then a kidney went from Michigan to Georgia. There may be even more people part of the chain. (If anyone knows of kidney transplants that happened in those three states that week, please contact Mike.)

That makes so far ten people – five life-giving donors and five blest recipients – part of this chain of life – honored to carry on Amy’s Legacy.

While few people can be a living donor, almost everyone can donate in death and save a lot of lives!

 

My Donor

10488223_10153758385249694_2499489700850070053_nThe highlight of my transplant was meeting my direct donor, Glenn Millar! Amazing guy. Here is his post when he was discharged from the hospital:

I just said goodbye to my kidney. Take care of it Mike Atkinson. I’m truly grateful to have the opportunity to help you Mike. You and Stacy are good people.

 

CLEARED!!

I’M CLEARED!!! Getting a new kidney on December 29!

Soooo many people to thank, and I will…but this could not happen without Emory, who is donating her kidney to a woman in Colorado so I can get the kidney I need from a man here in San Diego.

So blest of God…more later.