Thursday, December 16, 2004

Christmas Memory

Although I have difficulties enjoying the time of some of my extended family, there are a few that I couldn't see enough. One of my favorite relatives is my cousin, Chris.

Chris is five years older than I am and he lives in Iowa. We both work for NABABNA and I will occasionally get an email from him or he'll email me.

When we were young, Chris and his family would come to Minnesota for Thanksgiving each year. The women (except me) would go shopping the day after the holiday and the kids (Chris, Matt (my other cousin), and I) would go with my dad, their dad (Stan), and my grandfather to different places to explore. I remember one year when we went to the University of Minnesota to check out a birds of prey exhibit. Sometimes we'd go to the zoo or the science museum.

As youngsters, I adored Chris. He was just enough older to be "cool" and still always treated me kindly. Being an only child, I was closer to Chris and Matt as my cousins than most. They came to my birthday parties when I still lived in Iowa and I went to theirs. At Christmas time, the three of us would rip through presents and play games and babble all night long.

Chris has a medical problem that held him back in certain areas of his life. He has always been more prone to watching movies, reading books, and spending time with family than going out. With his medical problems, I doubt he's ever gotten drunk. He doesn't go out on many dates but he has a group of close friends.

Chris was born with one kidney and it failed him at ten months of age. Most of his childhood involved taking medicine and being hooked up to a dialysis machine at night. Because of the limitation of being restricted to his house, his family took few vacations. Any time that we were able to see Chris was special.

When he was sixteen, his father donated one of his kidneys to Chris. The transplant was successful and Chris was able to finish high school and start college. He no longer had to be hooked up to a machine each night. It gave him freedom that he had only dreamed about.

At age nineteen, the kidney failed. It was back to the machine. Chris kept going to college. There were times when he would get so worn out walking from his car to the closest building that he had to stop and rest. His good friends stuck by him and our family thought of him constantly. I always hoped the best for Chris.

My family (my mom and dad and I) had a tradition of driving down to Waterloo, Iowa on Christmas Eve each year to see the family. We would come home that same night, but the few hours with the family always lifted my spirits. Since the plans were to travel and see the family, it was no surprise when the phone rang on December 23. I was sixteen at this point and Chris was 21. My mom answered it and immediately my dad and I were concerned. She was crying. All she said was, "Chris." The worst possibilities went through my head. The next thing I heard was, "Car accident." Then she composed herself enough to tell us the news.

The news was good for our family. A young man had been in a car accident on the East Coast and was not going to survive. He had signed up for organ donation and the kidney matched what Chris needed. To our family, it was a Christmas miracle. I understand the loss the other family must have felt. They lost a loved one during a time meant for joy and celebration. I am thankful that the family was kind enough to find a way to spread joy and life during their difficult time.

We didn't see Chris that year for Christmas. He was in surgery on Christmas Eve. He called later that night, once he had recovered. I remember a lot of tears of happiness. I remember feeling as if there is a plan for life. I remember realizing what good will towards man meant.

On our way home from Waterloo that year, the sky wasn't opening up to a full blown blizzard, but the highways were being dusted with a light swirl of white. Ice formed on the sides of the windshield and we watched the patterns formed. My parents joked about a face in the ice. My mom said it looked like Jesus, my dad said it looked like Elvis. It looked like neither, but I remember thinking that the moment was special. My family was smiling and laughing and being together for the holiday. Our family had been blessed with wonderful news.

The kidney Chris received worked in his body for 8 years. His body rejected it last year and he's back on dialysis. His weight fluctuations have returned and the trips to the hospital three times a week have taken a toll on Chris. I'm thankful that he works for NABABNA because I know what his manager has done to make sure that he can still have his job while he goes for medication. He had a problem at first with the dialysis, the mixture was not correct and he was having seizures a half hour after each session.

Chris is still positive and optimistic. He has decided to not sign up for the donation program right now. He says he can handle the medication for now. The time he got from that kidney was a blessing. I don't know if it was a miracle, but it felt like one. And I love my cousin.


At 5:54 AM, The Lioness said...

This was very moving. I wish him all the best.

At 8:43 AM, Matt said...

As it did the first time I heard the story, it made me cry. Not in sadness, but in joy. Joy for the time Chris has been given, joy for the "miracle", and joy for knowing how loving of a person you are. Lioness is right, this very moving. Thank yo9u for sharing it with the world.
Big Brother

At 8:22 AM, CarpeDM said...

I am extremely impressed with Chris's strength. This is an amazing story. Thank you for sharing it.