PEOPLE [AMC Real Story] Letters from Kidney Transplantation Recipient, Donor, and Surgeon 2024.04.02

Three Letters: Story of a Kidney Transplant Mother and Daughter with Professor Sung Shin


Organ transplantation is a process of delivering the last hope to patients who have endured great and small despair. Hidden are stories of individuals needing patience, courage, comfort, and commitment. A mother who successfully received kidney transplantation, her daughter who donated it, and her surgeon wrote to each other.


If Only I Could Donate my Kidney to You

My dearest daughter,

It has been over two months since you donated your kidney to me. To begin with, I am doing just fine! When you said you would donate your kidney at first, I could only think about how much I wish I could have donated it to you. Even until the day of surgery, I was still preoccupied with complex thoughts, like ‘Do we really have to do this?’ Now, I feel as if we are together every moment. I cannot help having a lingering ache in the corner of my heart whenever I think of you, but I am determined to live my second life to the fullest for you. I have to live well.

I can call your name millions of times, which is never enough. I can only say this. I love you. I love you.


Grateful to Have Two Kidneys

Dear my beloved mother,

It is not my first time writing to you, but I do not even know where to begin this time.

It was October 10, 2017, at dusk in Arizona, when I received a phone call. I was told that you had been diagnosed with kidney failure and that you would eventually need kidney transplantation. At that moment, I decided to be the donor when that ‘someday’ would come. Then, on May 14, 2020, “Sis, come home quickly.” I heard tears in my younger sister’s voice and knew that ‘someday’ had arrived. With COVID-19 pandemic, I had not thought of going back to Korea and was not prepared at all, but I hastily booked the earliest flight to Korea. The 30-hour flight home with just one suitcase seemed like forever.


Two chaotic months had passed with two weeks of quarantine, dozens of donor tests, and convincing you. I was filled with mixed feelings on my way back to the United States. ‘Is it right for me to live far away from my family just to pursue my dream?’ ‘But then, what can I do for them if I return?’ I wondered how to prepare for the surgery and handle a leave of absence. I could not stop my train of thought. Then, about three weeks before the scheduled surgery, I received an unexpected call. It was from the hospital where the surgery was scheduled, saying it could not be done. ‘This must be when it feels like the sky is falling!’ Would you find a mother in the world wanting to live even if it meant cutting open her child’s stomach? I had worked so hard to convince Mom, who wanted to live only as long as she was given, and now the surgery was not possible…


While thinking about whether to bring my mom to the United States, I heard kidney transplantation could be possible with robotic surgery at Asan Medical Center. It was like a gift from heaven. Could anybody imagine how I felt then? I came back to Korea and underwent surgery. The results were so successful that it was hard to believe it was thought impossible by the previous hospital.


I know that you get heartbroken whenever you see my scars and feel guilty for even the slightest discomfort. But I am thankful every day after the surgery. What you needed was not a heart or brain. I could give you one kidney because I had two of them. I am also grateful that your life, which had only six months left, has been extended to ten or twenty years so you can stay with me for a long time. We were also lucky to meet Professor Sung Shin and the medical staff at Asan Medical Center, who willingly performed the challenging surgery. Now that you have a part of my body, let’s take good care of our health and live happily. Please come to visit me in the U.S. and see how I am doing. I will be all ears to whatever lecture you may give. I miss your cooking so much.


Mom, thank you for enduring the difficult process, always being the only one by my side, and being my mom. I love you.


Waiting for News of Recovery

Dear mother and daughter whom I met as a donor and a recipient,

Hello, this is Professor Sung Sin, the surgeon who performed the surgery. Although some time has passed, I remember the moment when I first met the mother. She came in after being told by another hospital that kidney transplantation was very risky due to severe obesity. She asked if surgery would be possible, and I could see a low anticipation on her face as if she had already decided to give up. I was very much heartbroken because I could read her relief from not having to cause harm to her daughter, who had decided to donate her kidney. That was why I wanted to do something to help her all the more. In fact, open surgery for kidney transplantation was almost unviable. So, I suggested minimizing the wound with robotic surgery, and the mother and daughter agreed to it. It was the first robot-assisted kidney transplantation in Korea for a severely obese patient. I was not free of concern about the surgery despite the thorough preparation made. However, I was delighted to see the patient recovering safely from the surgery because I could deliver good news to the daughter who traveled a long way to donate her kidney to her mother! As the lingering tension eased, I was able to share the moments of joy and excitement with the patient and her family.


I will always do my best in this position. I hope to always bring hope and excitement to patients and families going through difficult times.