Skip to main content

My dad gave me life -- twice

By Karin Hehenberger
updated 4:34 PM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
When Type 1 diabetes left Karin Hehenberger in need of a kidney transplant, her dad, Michael, said,
When Type 1 diabetes left Karin Hehenberger in need of a kidney transplant, her dad, Michael, said, "Let's do it next week"
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Karin Hehenberger: Celebrating Father's Day isn't enough to thank her dad for saving her life
  • With Type 1 diabetes, she needed kidney transplant; her dad said, "Let's do it next week"
  • The transplant success inspired her to start a site helping those with chronic ailments connect
  • She says many don't have option she did; she thanks her dad by living a good, healthy life

Editor's note: Karin Hehenberger is a medical doctor and founder of Lyfebulb, a company dedicated to helping people achieve an optimal lifestyle by addressing general and chronic health concerns. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Each Father's Day, I thank my father for giving me life -- twice -- the first time in the traditional sense and the second when he donated his kidney to me. When I speak about getting him a Father's Day gift, he says the best gift I can give him is to live a good, healthy life.

Five years ago, we were in the OR, side by side as one of his kidneys was transferred into my body, saving my life. I had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes the summer I turned 17, and now, 20 years later, my kidneys were so damaged from the ups and downs of sugar in my blood that my medical team told me I needed either to get on dialysis or to receive a new organ from a deceased donor or a living relative.

Karin Hehenberger
Karin Hehenberger

To my father, the choice was simple -- he said, "Let's do it next week."

I marveled at his ability to make a quick decision that would alter both of our bodies forever.

During the pre-operation testing period, we spent a lot of time together. We kept our spirits high and our minds off the possibility of a failure or a postponement (if one of us got sick, for instance, or if my kidneys got worse and I needed dialysis) by making plans for the future -- all the things we wanted to do individually and apart.

Before he knew of my condition, my father, 63, had made plans to climb to Mount Everest's base camp with close friends, and it was scheduled for about two months after surgery. I was worried about the short recovery time, but he kept his sights on this adventure of a lifetime in addition to my regaining my health.

Mom gets dying son's kidney
Teacher to donate kidney to her student
Bridesmaid's gift to groom: A kidney

As a debt of gratitude to my dad (who finished his Mount Everest trek in good health), I created my new company, Lyfebulb, an organization that aims to connect and help people with chronic disease and inspire them to lead better lives. The ultimate goal is curing people of diabetes, kidney disease and other chronic illnesses, but while scientists in academia and industry fight that battle, I wanted to create a place both online and offline, for people to enjoy the small pleasures in life, share their stories, learn about new treatments and medications, and find resources.

Many people are not as fortunate as I was. As noted in the 2013 U.S. Renal Data System, about 34% of patients with diabetes survive five years after initiation of hemodialysis and 10% were alive after 10 years. Waiting for an organ on the regular transplant list may take years. Those years are tough ones, and when the organ finally arrives, it may be too late.

I believe that many more people would do what my father did for me if they knew more about the transplant process and outcomes. Improving access to organs is crucial now that the rate of diabetes is exploding and the average age of people living is increasing. We will be faced with many individuals needing an organ who may not have someone to ask who is educated about the risks, healthy enough to be approved and willing to step up to the plate.

Since the transplant, my father and I have celebrated holidays, gone skiing, enjoyed wine, argued and laughed -- essentially behaved like a normal father and daughter -- with the exception that we share his original pair of kidneys. Every day I remind myself what a precious gift my father has given me. I am alive today thanks to my father, and I hope to make him proud.

One day a year isn't enough to celebrate and thank my father for all he has done for me. To show my appreciation, the best gift I will give my dad this Father's Day is to take care of my health and to live each day to its fullest. It's the gift I've been giving him each year since we were in the OR side by side. And I plan on giving that gift to him for many Father's Days to come.

Opinion: Son, this is how to be a man

When is 'Daddy' more than DNA?

Opinion: 5 lessons my 9-year-old son taught me about men

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
updated 5:32 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 3:17 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
updated 9:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 3:27 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT