I donated a kidney to my sister Pam on December 14th, 2017. It’s been a long journey for her as she was one of the first liver transplant recipients at University Hospital in Denver in 1990. This was also the year I ran my first ultramarathon, a 35-mile trail race in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
Pam would need a kidney transplant in 2002 because of all the anti-rejection medicine she had to take. My brother Brian (Uncle B) donated one of his kidneys to Pam that year. Up until that point, Uncle B had competed in triathlons and finished numerous ultras, including the Leadville Trail 100 run multiple times. He still bikes nearly every day, although he doesn’t compete anymore. I have continued to run ultras every year since that first race and still have that same sense of adventure and wonder if I can finish an ultra, especially a 100 miler.
During the fall of 2017, I underwent the tests required to be a kidney donor. The chance of being a donor isn’t great, let alone being a perfect match. But that’s what happened for Pam and I. My antigen count and crossmatch tests were perfect. After taking the stress test, on a treadmill, I was given the go-ahead to donate my kidney and scheduled the surgery for December at UC Health in Colorado. I continued to train because I wanted to go into the operation as fit as could be. I was wondering how I would do in running races after surgery, especially ultras. The training paid off because my recovery went really well.
After surgery, I walked down to Pam’s room that very afternoon. The next morning, I got out of bed after the nurse removed my catheter. By midday, the attending physician walked into my room, saw me standing next to my bed and asked if I peed on my own. Why yes I have! Ok, you can go home. What? Ok cool!
Pam had to stay in the hospital for a few more days, so we went to the Airbnb house we rented across the street and recovered there for a couple of days. I didn’t eat much those first few days and I was in some discomfort. I only took Tylenol because I didn’t want to take the oxy prescription they gave me.
I could only lay on my back. If I rolled over, it felt like my insides were moving around. Haha! My surgeon, Dr. Pshak, told me it would feel like I did 20,000 sit-ups. That’s exactly how it felt for me. By the time I got home on Day 4 post surgery, I was starving and ate a huge plate of lasagna that a friend made for us. Anxious to begin or plan some form of exercise, yet determined not to run for 30 days, I ordered an exercise bike. For $200 I got a pretty good bike to spin on.
On Day 7, my surgeon said my incisions looked good and said I’ll be running in 4-6 weeks. I didn’t want to push it but I did want to be active so I walked a lot. Up to 5 miles per day for the first month. On Day 9, I walked in a holiday 1-mile fun run. On day 16, I walked in a 5K snowshoe race being careful not to trip myself. My abdomen was still sore so it would’ve been dumb to push it.
By this time, Pam was doing great. I went back to work on January 2nd, careful not to lift anything too heavy. After 30 days, I started easy running and continued to spin on my trainer. During January, February, and March, I ran/walked another 5 snowshoe races. Snowshoe racing is hard, so while I wasn’t running these like I normally do, they are in the mountains so my heart rate was maxing out. In April, we traveled out to California to visit our son and run a hilly 50K together. It turned out to be really rainy weather, but I finished without much trouble. Two weeks after that, I entered a 24-hour race to see how I would do. The weather was rainy and snowy, but I was able to run/walk 78 miles. In June, I traveled to Ohio to run in another 24-hour race. I was ready to push this one and see if I could hit 100 miles. The poor weather seemed to follow me and so I had to push through heavy rain again. Without taking any long breaks, I finished 100 miles in 23:58! In July I ran a 7-mile uphill mountain race in Vail, then followed that with a tough, mountainous 50K in Utah called Speedgoat. This was the one race that kicked my butt. 2 hours after I finished I started puking. I felt fine after that, but it was a wake-up call to not get complacent and think everything is the same.
On August 18th, I began the Leadville Trail 100 with my son Ethan, who was running again for his 2nd time. This would be my 28th consecutive start at the race and will always be one of the most memorable. During the race, I kept a watchful eye on my fluid and food intake. During the heat of the day, I felt like crap, but that’s nothing unusual at Leadville due to the heat midday combined with the altitude. I finished with Ethan, my sister Pam and the rest of our families in just over 29 hours. (my 24th finish)
It’s still a learning process for me, but if you’re motivated to get back doing endurance racing, you can do it. When I began the tests last fall, I decided to not consume any alcohol for a year and to clean up my diet a little. I don’t take any ibuprofen and I’ve kept my weight at a good level for racing. I do think about my health, my kidney and how lucky I was to be able to donate. My sister Pam is on a very low level of anti-rejection medicine now which is terrific and she is doing great. Listen to your body and have fun out there.