Valley Voices

Lots of reward, and a few challenges, to being a living organ donor

Aileen Rodriguez Imperatrice and her husband Tony.
Aileen Rodriguez Imperatrice and her husband Tony. Contributed

In a previous Valley Voice I shared my journey about becoming a living kidney donor. There’s more to the story.

My decision to be a donor was easy. Medical preparation and recovery went smoothly thanks to our transplant team, and friends and family who helped. Surprises came in other obstacles along the way.

There were people who tried to talk us out of it. Those who tried to convince my husband that I couldn’t possibly be his match because I wasn’t also white. Those who tried to instill fear in me, perhaps out of their own fear of being asked by someone. And there were those who tried to project their religious and cultural fears against being a donor. They didn’t realize nothing would dissuade me from this opportunity.

For us, there was concern that familial health issues might preclude me from being able to donate. If you ever want to know everything about your health and for free, become a donor! The physical and psychological tests you undergo allow you to learn a great deal. I appreciated the psychological testing and their care in making sure I really wanted to do this. Every single doctor, nurse and specialist asked me that same question. They make certain there are no doubts, no pressure, and if there ever are, even on surgery day, they will make up some medical excuse for me so I won’t have to tell anyone why I may have changed my mind. Therefore, if anyone ever tells you the lie that people are coerced into donating, that’s completely ridiculous! You have a way out at any moment.

We had concerns regarding financial needs. As I shared in my last article, we are self-employed, but we were able to generate extra funding with donations from friends and some family. My social worker told me she had worked with other artists and we are the most resourceful. Getting through surgery prep and recovery was one thing, but now we face continuing upkeep. Insurance is expensive and regular check-ups in Fresno and San Francisco, along with the quantity of expensive medications my husband must take for the rest of his life, pose a continuing challenge.

The good news is we are doing well. I’m healthy and my husband’s new kidney is thriving. We are happy with our outcome and are back trying to move our careers forward.

Being an artist is my constant, and with this challenge it wasn’t any different. In fact, it’s because of my ability to channel my experiences into my work that I can face things so positively. In society there is too often the treatment of art as a luxury, and some see it as not even necessary. Nothing could be further from the truth. I can tell you of so many instances where art in any of its forms has saved lives. In my case, I shared what we endured. I’ve always created from a compelling need to purge whatever is dominating my thoughts. This allows me to let go of some of the weight of it so I can move on. By sharing how this experience has expanded the way I think about the bodies we live in and what we can do as meaningful options, it opened another door to conversations with others going through difficult issues.

I have had contact with the woman who received my kidney. She is a wife and mother of two. After I reached out to her, she contacted me six months following our surgeries to let me know she was doing well. She also told me she has a daughter that has only known her to be on dialysis. For the first time in her life they were able to take a family vacation together. I was overwhelmed with happiness for her.

Many people ask me if I feel different now that I only have one kidney; do I notice it missing. Not really. What I do know is that now a part of me is living inside another human being in another part of the world. And that person could go on living long after I’ve passed. Which means a part of me will go on living after I’m gone. That’s amazing.

Aileen Rodriguez Imperatrice is an artist, living in Fresno and represented in Los Angeles. She is also a published writer and on-screen talent. She recently received a Horizon Award given to her by the Fresno Arts Council and the city of Fresno. You can find her work on her website