By Brandon Mayberry
In March of 2011, at the age of 33, I officially became a living kidney donor. Not that anyone ever anticipates donating a kidney, but in my case, I certainly would have never guessed that I’d be donating it to my partner’s mother, Riki. Riki and I were perfect matches kidney-wise, in fact, as blood type and tissues are concerned, only one in 1.3 million people would be as close of a match. However, our backgrounds could not have been more different; Riki, being of Jewish heritage, living in Israel, and me from Ohio, being an old-school American, with a family lineage pre-dating the Revolutionary War with no known Jewish ties. Call it a small world, call it fate, but part of me truly believes something or someone larger than both of us brought Riki and I together.
Deciding to donate a kidney is not an easy decision. I would encourage anyone considering the option to give it proper thought and consideration. This is something that cannot be undone so you need to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. For me, I knew my kidney would not only give Riki the energy and vitality that dialysis had taken from her; it would also allow her to continue to travel, which she loves, and be with her grandchildren, who she cherishes more than life itself. Having lost my mother at the age of 12 to a brutal crime, I felt even more compelled to help keep my partner’s mother stay alive. My extremely close relationship with my grandmother made it even clearer that Riki and her grandchildren should be able to enjoy as much time together as possible.
My grandmother recently shared from my mother’s journal around the time I was in first grade. She had written, “Brandon is very generous and will give away belongings to extremes.” The hard times I’ve faced throughout my life, including my mother’s death, only helped me discover compassion within myself. From embracing a vegan diet, which honored my well being while at the same time respecting the planet and its inhabitants, to earning my health and wellness certificate from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition so that I could help people achieve better health; I built a framework for compassion that ultimately led to becoming a donor.
As I mentioned, the decision to become a living donor can be scary and feel overwhelming. However, education can help conquer fears and provide a better understanding of the process. The National Kidney Foundation provides many resources, including putting you in touch with other living donors, who can walk you through the entire donation process.
Because my full-time job as an opera singer at the Met is relatively physical, I required a full month of rest after the surgery before returning to work. I also needed to wait a few more months before I could lift any considerable weight due to the still sensitive incisions. The laparoscopic procedure used to remove my kidney was minimally invasive, however it did leave me with some scarring and pain. Overall, being a living kidney donor and having the opportunity to help someone in need was a positive, life-affirming experience for me.
Being a living kidney donor is just one example of how you can contribute. Don’t feel that you have to do it all, but instead think about small ways you can contribute, like informing your family about the leading risk factors connected to kidney disease, volunteering to help out with a kidney screening day through the National Kidney Foundation or using your time and talent to fundraise for a foundation or cause that resonates with your spirit.
There are many ways that businesses can get involved as well, which makes me proud to announce that Swirlz Cupcakes, a bakery in Chicago owned by business partner Pam Rose and myself, will be hosting a six month fundraising initiative with the National Kidney Foundation that will begin on September 14 (Swirlz 7 year anniversary) and end on World Kidney Day on March 13th. I plan to personally match all donations up to $7,000 during the six months and Swirlz Cupcakes will be donating 100% of the proceeds to NFK for select cupcakes purchased during the last two weeks of September and again during the first two weeks of March 2014. You can also donate directly at the store without a purchase or make a donation via the link below:
I’d like to leave you with an appropriate quote by Jane Goodall that simply sums up my views about how to live life. She is a revered humanitarian, environmentalist, author, primatologist, and 78 years young:
“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”
DePaul University graduate, former Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center alum, and current Metropolitan Opera singer Brandon Mayberry generously donated his kidney to his mother-in-law to be in 2011. As co-owner and founding member of Swirlz Cupcakes in Chicago, he and business partner Pam Rose are launching a six-month fundraising initiative with the National Kidney Foundation