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
“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.”
Pausch, The Last
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
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
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
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.