Homework, sports, friends, school dances…these are some of the things that occupy the minds of most high school students. Organ donation? Probably not at the top of the list. Except for 16-year-old Jake O’Rielly. After hearing a news story about a young person who donated a kidney to someone in need, the idea of organ donation started swirling around in Jake’s head. Almost 10 years later, that idea turned into reality.
An idea blooms in Jake's head
I know it’s not typical for a 16-year-old to think about donating a kidney, but after seeing a story on the news one day about a young person who did just that, I started thinking about whether that was something I could do. At the time, I was too young to donate, but the thought stayed with me throughout college and then after graduation. The timing didn’t seem right – until recently. I was driving down the highway one day and saw a billboard of a family looking for a kidney donor. Then, it clicked. Now is the perfect time. There’s no reason not to do it. And I was getting tired of hearing about all of these bad things happening in the world that I couldn’t do anything about. So, now more than ever, I wanted to do something positive.
The decision was an easy one
I did ask myself the question, ‘what if something happens to my remaining kidney someday? Will I regret this choice?’ But in my research, I learned that most people who have severe kidney issues, develop it in their 60s. Who knows when I’m that age, what kind of technology would be available to help me. And I would hope that if I, or my mom, were in the position one day to need an organ donor that someone would come forward and donate.
Starting the kidney donation process
After I saw the billboard, I did some research and came to the Tufts Medical Center website. I completed an online application and had some phone calls with staff from the Tufts MC transplant team. Natalie, the patient coordinator, was incredible and managed the entire process. I had some blood work taken and other tests done, including a psychological screening, to be sure I was healthy enough to donate. I met the surgeon, who walked me through the procedure. The whole pre-surgery process took a couple of months. Once all my test results came back looking good, it was time to get ready for the surgery.
I knew that since my kidney would have to be the right match for a recipient, it was probably unlikely that I’d match with the family from the billboard. But it didn’t matter – I just wanted to help someone.
Ready for surgery
I had never had surgery before, unless you call getting your wisdom teeth out surgery, so I was a little nervous. But I did a lot of research and realistically, the procedure is pretty low-risk. I knew all I had to do was go to sleep and recover. More than anything, I was excited to be able to give this gift to someone in need. The surgery itself was about 4-6 hours and I was only in the hospital for about thirty six hours. I had some soreness at the incision site after surgery but I was able to manage it with only Tylenol. Each day got easier and within a couple of weeks, I was back to my regular routine.
Giving the gift of life
After surgery, I was able to exchange letters with the person who received my kidney via her transplant coordinator. I found out we shared a pretty rare antibody profile. She has kids, which was really sweet to hear. She’s young…I think she is only about 35. After COVID is over, I’d love to meet her. As much as receiving my kidney was a gift to her, being able to donate it was a gift to me.
This experience has been life-changing.