Kent’s Donation Journey, the story of an everyday athlete!
Written by Ken on October 30, 2018
I was a non-directed donor on September 11, 2018. And ironically, or not, it went to a 60-70-year-old white male in New York City. His operation took place at one of the original transplant centers at Columbia University Hospital. At this point, I know nothing else about my recipient except that the operation went great and my kidney is functioning well. That was as of September 13.
I grew up a military brat, my dad was an Air Force pilot for 22 years, and we moved basically every three years, living close to war zones; France in the mid-60s and Okinawa in late 60s, early 70s. So, I know no one before my college friends. I moved to Colorado from Ohio right after I graduated from Miami University in 1980 with some of them. In college I was on the school’s Equestrian Team, and learned to ice skate, eventually helping teach ice dance. And I started attending hockey games. I had always been a road bike rider. Moving to Colorado allowed that to grow.
I had run track in high school, and I started doing some races in Colorado early on. My best time in the Bolder Boulder was 44 minutes, and my best 10K was 41 minutes, and best 5k right at 20. My wife and I have done lots of 5K and 10K races throughout our 33 years together, and the Denver Donor Dash, starting its year 2 became a non-miss event.
My wife Pat is a Pediatric Nurse, so I quickly became exposed to many aspects of children’s health, and then I became a parent. Miracle number one in my life. Our son needed some help getting through the first few months, and in that, I donated him some blood. Had never done that. I’ve now been a regular 0 Negative donor for 30+ years.
I grew up legally blind but participated in many sports throughout my life, starting in 7th grade, and continuing on to climbing many 14ers in Colorado and skiing black slopes while still legally blind. My son inherited my eye problems, and in the doctor’s evaluation of his eyes, he looked at mine. His next words changed my life. “I can fix you,” he said. I’d never heard that. So on my 33rd birthday, the day the first Gulf War started, Miracle number two in my life!. I had cataract surgery and I could see. A few months later, had my other eye done, and I soon got my driver’s license. Look out world!
Sometime in my 40’s, I started considering donating a kidney. By the time I actually asked about registering, I was told I was too old. So I kept donating blood, and much of my time to various things. A couple of years ago, we’d done the Donor Dash and I decided to ask again about the age requirement. I was told things had changed, and that I could be a donor! Knowing the impacts of being an O Negative blood donor, I figured that alone would be a large help to a recipient that can only get O blood things. I can give someone else a miracle in their life! Cool beans.
I made the decision to donate a kidney, had my wife’s blessing, and so last November, I did the requisite 24-hour urine collection, and gave a small blood sample, and then waited. I had not heard anything by early February of 2018, so I called the National Kidney Registry and asked if they had gotten my sample’s results. They had not, so we got them connected with the testing site, and then the ball was rolling. I was quickly contacted by the University of Colorado Hospital Transplant Center and scheduled for the first set of evaluations and tests. As my wife fondly refers to this set of exams, the Million Dollar Workup. Wow! At this point I’d already had a couple of trips scheduled that I did not want to impact them, so as it worked out, my donation was eventually then scheduled for September 11, 2018. Of course, my first thought was ‘really?’ But after it sunk in and then I found out it was going to a man in NYC, it cemented this course for me, full steam ahead! Now 9/11 will have a much better meaning for me and this gentleman. I hope to learn more about him soon.
The Columbia Transplant Center asked that our paired operations be scheduled on the same day. So at 3:30 am on 9/11, I went to pre-op, with surgery scheduled for 5:30 am. My kidney was flown direct to NYC and the recipient’s surgery started at 7 pm MTN that same day. At that point I was neatly tucked into my first ever night in the hospital, judiciously using my PCA pump, and watching the Rockies on TV. All was good; I’d survived the operation and doing well with pain and all. I was only in the hospital one night.
It took a couple weeks before I was able to slowly walk a mile. I also around that time took a short bike ride and did not have too much pain. At three weeks, we took a hike at some altitude. It was an easy five miles on the Aspen beautiful Kenosha Pass Colorado Trail. It hurt, I ran out of gas. Had to take our time and rest but we made it. Like I’ve been doing all along, I pushed the limits but just barely.
Yesterday was my four weeks out of surgery, and my ten-pound weight restriction is now lifted. I have now been to the gym a couple times, doing very easy things and minimal weights. I have mainly been doing the exercise bike and some core type yoga stuff. All is good.
I have all along felt stronger by the day. Finally, my appetite is coming back. I have lost ten pounds, down to 176, the first time below 180 in some decades. All is good.
One thing to mention at this point I did not fully anticipate is how emotional it was/is. I knew I was doing a great thing, and that anyone that knew me knows I would not take lightly. I was absolutely in awe of the outpouring of good wishes and statements made. Words I do not utter lightly were being said of me. I’m humbled but thankful. It made the whole experience and recovery much easier. This gave me great energy, feeling the love and all. With the changing of the seasons, I too hope to continue to change back to where I was. Bought my ski passes, and dreaming of knee deep powder in some high altitude bowl this fall! Meanwhile, I will keep slowly working to be the ‘everyday athlete’ I was. I know it will happen.