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February 10, 2012

Posted Feb 10 2012 9:13pm
This past week I had an incredible opportunity to tell my story at Harvard Medical School.

It all started back in June of last year…several days after the transplant, Dr. H. walked into my hospital room, grinning ear to ear because I was doing so well.  We were talking about my labs and how well my new kidney was doing and how I was feeling.  Then Dr. H. says to me, “I would love it if you would come and speak to my class at Harvard.” 

I was floored, but of course I immediately said yes.  I said yes without any hesitation, which is incredible in and of itself because I am one of those people who usually cringes at the thought of speaking in public.  I have never considered myself much of a public speaker…I have always been the shy one doing all of the work in the background.  However, over the last several years, I have been forcing myself into situations that call for some form of public speaking, trying to get myself through this fear.

I think one of the reasons, or probably the single most important reason, I agreed to do this was because of the subject matter – Diabetes and Kidney Transplantation.  I have lived with Diabetes now for about 41 years, 28 as a Diabetic myself, and the rest of the time growing up with Linda being a Diabetic.  And, of course, then there is Kidney Disease and the resulting transplant – kidney disease I am fairly new to (about eight years or so), and the transplant I am definitely a newbie, just having the transplant eight months ago.

Fast forward to this past Monday.  Dr. H. had invited me to come early so that I could sit in on her minicases class, as well as another lecture, and then I was due to begin my lecture at 11:30.  It seems like I have been in and around the medical field all of my life because of Diabetes, so it was interesting to be sitting in a class at Harvard listening to Dr. H. talk to her students about the effects that potassium has on the kidneys…similar to the many discussions Dr. H. and I have had over the years, so it was great that I could sit there and know what was being talked about.

After the minicases, Dr. H. and I walked over to the auditorium (called an Ampitheater at Harvard).  I guestamated that there were approximately 200 seats in this ampitheater, and when we walked in for the first lecture it was about 1/3 full, and Dr. H. turned to me and said, “Don’r worry, there will be many more here when you speak.”  And sure enough, when I got up to speak there were…it wasn’t completely full, but it felt like it.

So, as it comes time for me to get up, Dr. H. begins to introduce me, and she starts out by simply saying, “Our last lecture is…” and for a brief second I zoned out because as I heard those words “last lecture” I immediately thought of Randy Pausch at Carnegie Mellon University delivering The Last Lecture in 2007.  If you haven’t seen it, it is well worth watching, I have watched it several times and read the book, The Last Lecture, that followed.

I remembered how Randy Pausch handled himself during this lecture, knowing he was going to die because of the pancreatic cancer that he had been battling for so long.  He stood there with grace and poise and humility, as well as a great deal of humanity, and in the instant that Dr. H. uttered those words upon introducing me, and I immediately felt at ease…not because I was about to deliver a lecture on par to his (which mine was far from that, trust me), but because I saw part of myself in him.

During his last lecture, Randy Pausch said something that has stuck with me ever since…he said
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
Randy Pausch , The Last Lecture

With my Diabetes and Kidney Disease, I have encountered many brick walls, and I have always been determined to not only get to the other side of the brick wall, but to obliterate the brick wall in the process.  So, a talk in front of 100 to 150+ people should be a piece of cake (sugar free cake at that!)

As I walk up to the podium, I have one additional fear to overcome, and again, I don’t think I am alone in this fear – tripping !  Trust me, I’m sure if you do a search on YouTube, you would be able to find plenty of examples of people tripping on their way up to give a speech or presentation, and the last thing I wanted was to trip on my way up there at 11:30, and then have it posted on YouTube by 11:32 and then have it become an internet sensation by the time I was finished speaking.  Thankfully, I did not trip, nor do I think the students I was addressing would have done that anyways.

As I got going, and after I got rid of the “cotton mouth” feeling, I felt very comfortable.  I was a pleasure and an honor to be telling my story, because my story involves so many people, but in particular Linda and Tommy, who have been instrumental throughout my life.  I was also able to give the students a firsthand look at someone going through a kidney transplant, and blasting through that brick wall to show them what it is like on the other side, and how important organ donation is.

However, one of the best parts of the whole lecture was the genuine interest the students had in Tommy and his well being.  Tommy saved my life, and I am very happy that they were able to recognize both sides of the transplant process.

To Dr. H., thank you for the invitation…I hope I did you proud.

If you, or someone you know is interested in learning more about Diabetes or organ donation, please contact: www.diabetes.org , www.joslin.org ,   www.neod.org ; www.donatelifenewengland.org , www.organdonor.gov ; www.unos.org ; www.donatelife.net ; www.organtransplants.org ; or  www.thewaitinglist.org , or, by all means, speak to your own physician, or feel free to send me an email.


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