August 29, 2012, I actually did it. A non-directed kidney donation. All I knew at the time of the surgery was my left kidney would be removed at the University of Washington Medical Center, placed in a lunch box, and driven roughly 2 miles up the road to Seattle Children’s Hospital. I am still blown away by the process and medical technology that went into this surgery. I did meet the young teen girl who received my kidney a few months later. So what went into this decision to donate and how has it impacted my overall life and health since?
I am often asked why I chose to donate. First and foremost I wanted to help another. I have described my reasons becoming a living donor for a stranger as trying to describe yellowness or any color to someone born blind; it is something beyond words and reason, it is something that is just experienced, felt, or lived. Another way I have described it is this way; sadly, I think we live in a culture and time in a society where our lives are without meaning or real purpose, we are expendable. If a married couple divorces, they will generally remarry replacing one another. No matter our job and how important it is, our employers can replace us so the positions we fill may be important (think firefighters, pediatric oncology nurses, etc) but we as individuals tend to be replaceable and expendable. It also seems we are generally very ordinary, blend in, and even at times terribly complacent so for me it becomes about how do I make my life truly matter in non-expendable ways. How do I make my own individual self created meaning in a culture and world that seems to promote human shallowness? Giving a kidney was one way I can do this. Another way I look at it is we live in such a mechanical society. We get up to go to work, come home, play with the kids, play with a spouse or our partner, go to bed and get up and do it all over again. I wanted to do something that would let me escape that life and social expectations of how to live my life, even if temporally and to help another person.
Growing up as a military brat, soccer was the sport that I most often played. After all, I was living in Germany for the bulk of my childhood. So it should come as no surprise that running was something became part of me. In high school, I ran 800m, 1600m, and 3200m as well as steeplechase for those venues that had steeplechase track. Sadly and painfully I did rupture my Achilles tendon and that was the end of running for me for some time. As I started adulting I did not return to running. While in graduate school my weight increased to the point it was impacting my blood pressure so I returned to walking and running to get it under control and found that I missed running.
Needless to say when I had contacted the University of Washington Medical Center about possibly doing a non-directed kidney donation I had several questions. Can I still drink coffee, tea, and beer/alcohol? I mean I love “chewing” on the premium whiskeys of the world. How would or should my diet be impacted or change? How would it impact my daily life? How would it impact my medical insurance and life insurance? And can I still run? When I asked about running or if there was a max distance I should go I have received different answers. The problem is that we know little about the impact of endurance running on a single kidney. One nephrologist told me up to 10k was fine. Others have said listen to your body but the sky is the limit. They all drove home hydration and few mentioned rhabdomyolysis telling me what to look for highlighting the seriousness of it.
Since doing my donation I have had some running training setbacks that have kept me from fulfilling my all my goals. Mind you, none of the setbacks have been kidney related. I had a tear in the ligament in my left foot. I have also had some issues with my Achilles again but some of these issues have been my own doing by trying to do too much too fast or not implementing enough strength training into my running (I know better). So I have had to hit the reset button and start from scratch.
One question I am often asked about running with one kidney is the role of supplements in my diet and workouts. I have been told to watch the protein levels that I consume as large amounts of protein can overwork the kidney(s). This goes for bodybuilding supplements such as creatine. I thought one advantage of donating a kidney was it would force me to eat better, not that my diet was horrific before the donation. I do eat junk still. I allow myself one day a week to be totally food naughty and then eat reasonably the other days although I could still improve. I sometimes take a multivitamin (either Klean Athlete multivitamin or Hammer’s insurance caps) and when out on longer runs or workouts I use Skratch Labs hydration mixes and their energy chews. Occasionally I will use Hammer or Huma energy gels. Tailwind, Sword, and any number of other brands have served me well. I do not use any post workout supplements—good ole fashion chocolate milk is about it. Just find what works for you.
Pre-surgery I worked on my core which helped in the recovery process. My pre-surgery routine consisted of stair stepper at the gym, rowing machine, various balance drills like standing on one foot with my eyes closed turning my head side to side (try it), my beloved kettlebells, and planking as well as running. The first two days after the surgery hurt. But after that, I basically felt as if I had done too much ab workouts and sit-ups which last about 10 days. I did go to the gym 8 days after the surgery just to get out and do something. While there I did very little. Today there are three small scars to remind me of the surgery but I cannot tell by how I feel that I ever I donated a kidney.
My current workout consists of trail and road running and twice a week I do a kettlebell circuit which I use to increase my strength and help solve some of my muscular imbalances. The kettlebell circuit also creates an alternative muscular endurance workout from running as well. One day a week I leave open for whatever I feel like doing, extra rest, yoga, Pilates, or even another kettlebell routine of Turkish Getups. I am still trying to find what my body most responds positively to but I have not had any setbacks due to kidney function or lack thereof.
My early current running goals for 2019 are the Yakima 50k (a Rainshadow running event) and my big one is the JFK 50. I am sure there will be other races but these are the two that are targeted goals for me. My silly dream race would be to complete the Badwater 135 but that might be pushing the one kidney thing.
I am always available if anyone has more specific questions about running with one kidney, the surgical process, and recovery, or if you just want to chat about life meaning.