Saturday, May 8, 2021

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Joe's Neighborhood

What exactly is a kidney worth?



What exactly is a kidney worth? It depends, doesn’t it? If it is 7 a.m. and your left eye refuses to open to the world and you have to be at work by 8, a coffee, for example, seems worth quite a bit. Right? Or that slice of pizza at lunch? Before you say it’s not worth much, does it have Graziano’s sausage on it and Iowa-fresh tomatoes? See, it makes a difference. And that 15th pair of open-toed heels? Well maybe, just maybe, they are the shoes that will boost your self-confidence, that will get you the new job, that will pay for the new BMW, that requires a stop at the gas station, that results in you buying a lottery ticket, that ends up with you winning six million dollars. See, it’s a tricky business this valuation thing.joes1 7.14

But still, what exactly is a kidney worth? Especially when you’re on dialysis twice a week and both your kidneys have failed and the replacement kidney, a wonderful gift from your cousin, has gone south also. What’s a new kidney worth to you now?

“Jaime and I for 16 years did not like each other. We were complete polar opposites. She is not a musician; I am not an athlete. Different friends, different crowds, completely different interests.”

Tim Robinson grins at me, all the way over to where I am in Holland, large on my computer screen. Thirty-four years old. A kindergarten teacher at Capitol View in Des Moines. Young, vibrant, bursting with life. The person you want teaching your child. This is a good man doing good things.

Prep Iowa

“As adults, we discovered that we had each other. She is amazing. I’ve always looked up to Jaime, and she’s two years younger than me. She is considerably brighter and more intelligent. I made my parents proud, but I had to work to get halfway decent grades. Jaime could be anyone. She chose working with kids.”

And Jaime…

“Tim and I are similar in some ways and very different in other ways. I’d say we have a realistic relationship. If someone is going to call him out in my family, it would be me. Same with him. We have a mutual respect. We both work with kids. We share that passion.”

Jaime Robinson, also an ocean away in Des Moines, gives me a slanted smile. Thirty-two years old. School counselor and behavior strategist at Morris Elementary in Des Moines. Smart, thoughtful, understanding. Someone you’d turn to for a cool head in a crisis. She’s a good woman doing good things.joes2 7.14

“It hurts seeing Tim struggle. Living with kidney disease. The anxiety and stress of living with that, with what he knows is coming. It almost puts his life on hold. Your sibling knows you more than anyone else in the world. It’s hard to see his life like that. No one is going through this but him.”

Brother and sister. Sister and brother. Peas in a pod? More like an all-star wrestling tag team that will bring on the hurt — or at least get you out of kindergarten and solve your behavior issues. These are serious folks doing serious business.

So I contacted Tim and Jaime separately to find out what’s going on.

Tim, of course, is a kidney short. Disease took his first homegrown ones. His third kidney, the well-appreciated one from his cousin, lasted five years. But it’s time for a new model.

For now, dialysis is making his life work.

“I did dialysis this morning. Basically, here’s my catheter.” Tim shows me his chest catheter.

Yup, sure enough that’s a catheter on the big screen.

“So, I went in at 6:30 this morning. 6:30 until 9:10. Dialysis is cleaning my blood. There is an ‘in’ tube and an ‘out’ tube. The ‘in’ tube sucks the blood out of my body. Puts it in this machine. It cleans that blood, and then it puts it back in through the ‘out’ tube back into my body.”

Tim is grateful for dialysis. He understands there are many folks with kidney issues that dialysis saves their lives. Three times a week for the rest of their lives. But even with all his gratitude, he is more than ready to be done.

“The dialysis is hard. The nurses and technicians say to me how lucky I am to leave. I know that. Wonderful people work at the dialysis center. But to be chained to a machine is not good.”

As for Jaime…

“The first time Tim needed a transplant, I knew I was a match, good enough to donate. But our cousin was a better match. I kind of figured eventually it would be something I’d be doing for him. And here we are.”

Yup, here we are.

“He would do the same for me. It is an opportunity for me that you don’t get every day to give someone their life back. It is a special opportunity for me.”

Jaime believes this, that her donation is, in fact, a gift to her. But she is also aware that by the time this article is published, she’ll be fresh in the hospital, one organ less, even though she is totally healthy, and it will be six to eight weeks before she completely recovers. And, to make matters a little more messy, she had a bad hospital experience not so long ago. This is complicated stuff.

So, Tim, what do you think Jaime’s kidney is worth to you?

He gives a long sigh. Too much to measure. Too much to even grasp. He explains slowly.

“How can you ever thank a person enough for something like this? She’s giving me my life back. It’s not just a kidney. It’s what the kidney represents. I owe it to her to live life to the fullest. I owe it to the people at dialysis. I owe it to the people that take care of me at Mercy. To my surgeon. To my parents. How can I ever repay Jaime? I can’t. All I can do is show her by my actions that I’m going to live the shit out of life as long as I can.”

Tim takes a breath. A fierce line has been drawn in the sand. No return and no way out. A life well lived in exchange for a kidney. A hard bargain.

And Jaime, how about you?

A small smile curves her mouth. A twinkle comes to her eyes. This is not a good thing. I wait for it.

“Heck, maybe Tim can give me a Starbucks gift card.”

There you have it. The value of a kidney. CV


Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, his wife is once again assisting in the prosecution of war criminals in the Netherlands. He’s along for the ride and writes about being an Iowan in Europe on his blog at


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