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Stories of hope

Dawn Martin: I may not be a first responder, but my kidney is!

Dawn Martin, living donor

My story begins a few years ago.

My brother called me with the news a few years ago that he was diagnosed with kidney disease. He went on to assure me (and the rest of our family) that he was taking all necessary precautions and listening to whatever the doctors said to keep healthy. I told him then, “well, when it’s time for a kidney transplant, I am your donor.”

There was no hesitation then, and there was no hesitation a few years later on October 7th, 2021 when he called to let me know he was officially in renal failure and that it was time to search for a kidney donor. I told him again: “I am your donor.”

We grew up like typical brother and sister. I am older by four years, so he was a nuisance to me when he was born. We fought like normal kids. We played games and chased each other around the neighborhood. We were home for dinner by dark and picked on each other until bedtime.

We really didn’t miss each other when I left for college and later on my own path, but in that time – we grew up and became each other’s friend. He went on to become an EMT/Firefighter/First Responder with the Miami-Dade Fire Department. I got married, had a kid, divorced, and moved back to Miami. That was when we really got to become friends. We both shared a love of cars. Fast cars, tricked out cars, mechanics, repair, all of it. He introduced me into the Miami car culture and we made tons of friends together.

On October 8th, 2021, I applied to be his living donor. The institute contacted me within a few hours of my submission and the process officially began. I joined living donor Facebook groups. I searched the living donor process online. I read books. I read other people’s stories on their donation process. I wanted to know everything. Most importantly, I started a journal – to document the rollercoaster I was about to ride.

My brother and I kept in daily contact with each other. We vowed to share everything – all of the ups and downs and scary thoughts. I wanted to make him comfortable, to let him know he had nothing to worry about. I am the donor.

I changed my diet from high protein to nearly vegetarian. I began exercising 45 minutes a day, every day. I scheduled appointments with my therapist. I turned all of my tests in on time and passed with flying colors. I was cleared to fly down to Miami to attend the one-day marathon of testing. (EKG, Echocardiogram, blood work, X-rays, Nutritionist, Therapist, Nephrologist, and Surgeon)

It was getting real now!

I flew down November 15th, 2021. I stayed with my brother and his family in Miami. My brother picked me up from the airport and we went back to his house. His wife hugged me and did not let go. I held her while she cried tears of thankfulness. It was such a sweet, loving and powerful moment. It’s a moment I won’t soon forget.

Oh, I WILL be the donor.

A few days after getting home, I was in my car driving home from my therapy appointment where I just talked all about waiting for this final phone call. I knew it would be emotional either way. If I was approved to donate or not, there was going to be tears. And yes, the phone call came while I was driving. I pulled into the nearest parking lot and listened to the doctor go through my tests…one….at….a…time….

What was the answer?

“When would you be available for surgery?” My answer: “Tomorrow!!!” We both got a quick giggle out of that, and then it was decided for December 8th, 2021. I AM THE DONOR!

Tears of joy trickled from my eyes. I called my brother. “What are you doing December 8th?” December 8th, 2021 – My brother’s new birthday. Surgery went perfectly. Recovery was a little rough but as of today, we are four weeks post operation and we are both thriving. I get to forever tease him – a big sister’s dream! My favorite line though is “I may not be a first responder, but my kidney is!”

I jumped quickly from “the call” to “the surgery”. This would be the part where I talk about all the other people involved with making this happen seamlessly.

  • Our parents: Their love and support. They moved to Miami for a month to stay and help with both of our recoveries.
  • My Kids: They lived for three weeks without mom and dad. Our oldest (she is 26) watched over the two youngers (14 and 15).
  • Donators: These people are angels! We had a townhouse donated to us for recovery. My husband and I shared this house with my parents while we were in Miami. (Furniture was donated. tvs, kitchen supplies) Food was donated to my kids back at home in Atlanta. Neighbors offered their help and sent Uber Eats gift cards.
  • Other applicants: My brother had 24 other people (friends and family) who filled out the same form I did to become a living donor – These people are just as heroic and brave!
  • God: Having a strong foothold in my faith was key to knowing this was always the right thing to do and that I was meant to do this for my brother. There was never a hesitation or doubt about this path. Being solid with God meant that I did have nothing to fear. I walked this path with my head held high and with nothing but love in my heart for my brother and his family. I was given the chance to save his life and watch him grow old with his wife and kids. There is nothing more awesome than that!

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