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Holiday Conversations: How to Talk to Your Family About Your Need for a Kidney

Melissa Coleman Godfrey, Transplant Outreach Coordinator, Penn Transplant Institute

The holiday season can be a time of joy, togetherness, and celebration with family and loved ones.

However, if you have been diagnosed with kidney failure and are searching for a living kidney donor, the holidays can also be a stressful and anxious time as you decide how much of your health condition to share with family members and friends and whether, or how, to ask them to be tested as a potential donor.

While it may seem daunting, discussing your need for a kidney with your family during the holidays can be a crucial step in finding a living kidney donor. Here are some tips and strategies to help you navigate this important conversation.

1. Choose the Right Time and Place

Like every important discussion, this one requires the appropriate setting. Avoid large gatherings or noisy environments where distractions might interrupt the conversation. Choose a quiet, comfortable space where you can sit down and talk without interruptions. Timing is also important: try to find a moment when everyone is relaxed and not preoccupied with holiday activities.

2. Be Open and Honest

Start the conversation by expressing your feelings openly and honestly. Let your family know the severity of your situation and why you need a kidney transplant. Share your emotions, fears, and hopes with them. Being vulnerable can help your loved ones understand the gravity of the situation and connect with your needs on a deeper level.

3. Educate Your Family

Not everyone in your family may fully understand the complexities of kidney disease and transplantation or what is involved in becoming a living donor. Some may not even realize living donation is an option. Set aside some time to educate them about your condition, the transplantation process, how receiving a kidney could improve your quality of life, and why a kidney from a living donor is better than one from a deceased donor. Encourage them to ask questions.

4. Share Your Plan

Discuss your plan for finding a kidney donor, including sharing information about your microsite, how  you plan to get the word out about your need for a kidney, and how you are handling your health needs while you wait. Tell them how they can help and support you in your journey. Emphasize that even if they choose not to be tested as donor, there are many ways they can help you in your donor search.

5. Ask Them to Get Tested as a Potential Donor

If you’re comfortable doing so, suggest that family members consider getting tested as potential kidney donors. Explain the testing process, which involves blood tests and a thorough medical evaluation, and assure them that they will receive comprehensive medical care and support throughout the donation process.

6. Tell Them about Donor Shield

If your family members have concerns about lost wages from taking time off work to donate, the costs of childcare or travel, or any other concerns, tell them about Donor Shield and explain all the support and protections it offers for living donors, including reimbursement for up to $12,000 in lost wages, up to $5,000 reimbursement for dependent care and travel costs, complication coverage, kidney prioritization, and much more.

7. Respect Their Reactions

Be prepared for a range of reactions from your family members. Some may immediately offer to be tested as donors, while others may need time to process the information and come to a decision. Respect their feelings and decisions, regardless of the outcome. Everyone processes this kind of news differently and everyone has a right to their own personal feelings. Someone who seems reluctant at first may end up having a change of heart, so it’s important to reserve judgment and keep the lines of communication open.

8. Seek Advice

Your donor search coach can be an invaluable resource in helping you decide when and how to discuss your need for a donor with your family. Your healthcare team, including your transplant coordinator and social worker, may also be able to provide tips on how to approach this conversation with your family. They can also provide you with resources, information, and tips tailored to your specific situation.

9. Keep it Positive

Regardless of the outcome of the conversation, aim to maintain the closeness and connection you share with your family. The holiday season is about love and support, so continue to nurture those relationships, even if the discussion doesn’t lead to a potential donor. Keeping the conversation positive and free from pressure, guilt or blame is the best way to preserve a good relationship with your family and ensure they will be there to support you in your transplant journey, in whatever capacity they are able.