Meet Kidney Donor Athlete Heather!

We have always joked that I was my Dad’s favorite because I was the only one to have his brown eyes. As he began to face different medical concerns, the joke changed to me being the one giving him a kidney. Around the end of 2016, my family realized that these jokes were becoming reality and that my Dad would need a kidney. As it turns out, I was the only match out of the three siblings. The news honestly could not have come at a better time for me physically. I had been conditioning myself for a half marathon, so my body was in the best shape it had been in since high school. I was running between 15- 25 miles a week and hitting the gym each morning before work.  Once we committed to a surgery date, I was even more motivated to become physically prepared in the hopes to ease recovery. I even roped my sister into this ordeal with a “Fit Sisters, Fit Kidneys” board on Pinterest and began forcing her to the gym a few times a week too.

Visiting Dad Post Op
Visiting dad post op

I donated my kidney to my father on March 20, 2017. After surgery, I was convinced I would return to work in 4 weeks and would be working out in eight. For the most part, recovery went as expected. I was up and moving within 48 hours and was out of the hospital after 6 days. However, that is when I felt like the reality of recovery hit me. It was harder than I anticipated standing straight up and the worst was sleeping. As someone who sleeps on their stomach, I was lost. Most nights I would sit in a chair and watch television until I dozed off for an hour here and there. Nevertheless, I continued to feel more normal as each day passed. Right when I was planning to go back to work, a wrench was thrown into the plan. I went to my primary doctor thinking I just had a cold, which actually turned out to be pneumonia, meaning I was out of work until I finished my antibiotics. My goal of 4 weeks off was only delayed by five days.

Pneumonia Hits
Pneumonia hits

After going back to work, my focus quickly turned to when I could get back to running. My return to fitness began with walks around the block to test out my abdominal strength because I was still having trouble standing completely straight, which can be documented in so many photos where I look like I am bent over laughing. Thankfully, my family and friends knew this was bothering me so they would remind me to stand straight up when I would begin to hunch without realizing it. Two weeks later, everything was going well, and with permission from my doctor, I went on my first run post-op, May 28. Just 2 months and 8 days after surgery, I ran a mile and it felt so natural. My legs picked right back up where they left off. I slowly worked my way up to a 5k by the end of June. When I could do that with no problems, I committed myself to get back into shape for a 10 miler and then a half marathon as a birthday present, to me, the following April.

OC Half Marathon
OC Half Marathon

Not much has changed in my fitness routine. I do not feel limited in any way.  I am just more aware of taking care of myself now. I make sure I am hydrated and keep a close eye on my heart rate. My heart rate was the only real concern the doctors ever had during recovery for me. When in the hospital, I kept setting off alarms anytime I sat up or got out of the bed for the bathroom, my heart rate hit the 160s and the monitor would start beeping. Finally, I had to be unhooked from the sensor to save everyone the headache because I knew this high number was my “normal.” Prior to surgery, while running it was getting into the upper 180s and 190s. I took precaution and went to my cardiologist and everything checked out. As a safeguard, when I leave my house to exercise, I am sure to grab my two essentials- my fitness watch to track my heart rate and my medical bracelet announcing my restrictions as a kidney donor.

Tough Mudder 2018
Tough Mudder 2018

As I am 18 months post-donation, I have no regrets. I am back to life as usual (and just as importantly, so is my Dad). I just attended the Donate Life Family Fun Run in Baltimore. I never realized this community of organ donors existed and how many lives organ donation truly affects. As I continue on my donor and fitness journey, it has been great connecting with others and hearing their stories.

Now that I have conquered organ donation and my half marathon goals, I am training to participate in the Chattanooga Marathon in March 2019. The adventure continues…

Donate LIfe Run
Donate Life Run

3 thoughts on “Meet Kidney Donor Athlete Heather!

  1. I am so proud of you Heather. Your kindness and loving spirit , warms us all up. But, most importantly your love for your family is undeniable !! May god continue to give you strength and help you and your dad on this kidney journey together!! Good luck on your future fitness goals. God bless!!
    Liz

  2. This is so great to be recognized but more so to be an inspiration and motivator for others. Keep on keepin’ on… Here is to great health for you and for your dad. I am going to share this to motivate others to take care of their health, to exercise, to run (or walk), to participate in life to the fullest and to become organ donors, if possible. BTW, your first run back after surgery was on my dad’s birthday!

  3. This is an amazing story and I think it would be fantastic to share and help our social innovation. Our aim is to raise awareness and celebrate such beautiful stories, that people will find inspiring and can see the light in becoming a donor particularly those who are culturally and religiously bound against this. Thank you for your amazing story – will definitely share.

    MD

Leave a Reply