Meet Kidney Donor Athlete, Kathryn!

A little over two years ago I stumbled across a post on social media about a local man who was searching for a kidney. He was my blood type, about a decade younger (30 years old) and had been on dialysis for five years. He was also a former cross-country runner and soccer player. His story really stuck with me, although I had never known anyone personally who had dealt with chronic kidney failure.

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I would lurk on his social media account and see if he had found and donor and then put it away for a few weeks. Finally, in January of 2017, I decided to just go get tested to see if I was even a match and could maybe just let these nagging feelings go. Within a day or two, I had my answer – I was an excellent match. I hadn’t really considered organ donation, although I had been a life long blood donor. I have always been fascinated with medical advancements and that organs and blood are something we still don’t have viable synthetic alternatives for.

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I’ve been a very active person since I was a child and taken good care of myself. I was a ballet dancer growing up and became a runner 17 years ago – I needed a little escape and some goal-setting while staying home with my first child. I’d run every distance up to the marathon and had completed 13 marathons prior to donation, as well as about 30 sprint and Olympic distance triathlons. I wasn’t entirely sure what organ donation would mean for my athletic pursuits in the future, and the doctors weren’t a lot of help because they don’t see a lot of athletes in the transplant department. Prior to surgery, I was entirely comfortable with scaling back my distances and also adjusting my finish times. Although I enjoy pushing myself, I’ve only ever been an age-grouper and competitive at my very small regional level. So long as I was able to continue leading an active, healthy lifestyle I would be happy.

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I was very fortunate to have the Da Vinci robotic surgery. This involved 4 tiny incisions (less than 1”) for the instruments and then the main retrieval incision at my pubic bone which is maybe 4-5” wide. I was discharged within 24 hours and off pain medication, aside from Extra-strength Tylenol, within 48 hours (this was mostly due to developing an allergy to tramadol and not wanting to take the oxycontin that was prescribed to me). The pain wasn’t too uncomfortable most days until late in the evening. My doctor prescribed me 1 mile a day of walking, starting day 1. Within four or five days the pain was mostly gone and I was walking two or more miles, very slowly and broken up into smaller portions.

My healing was very steady from one week onward, and within three weeks I was running, back on my road bike and swimming laps. I just needed to make sure that I was eating healthy recovery foods, staying hydrated and maybe catching an extra nap here and there.

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Within four months I completed a 5k, 10k trail run, 15k, and half-marathon. I managed to squeak out a 2nd place age group finish in the trail run and knew then that things were going to pretty much return to normal for me. I kept my training somewhat on the minimal side and didn’t do any speedwork for six months. I completely made this restriction up on my own, based on reading about adhesions post-surgery. Something about making yourself do 400m repeats until you want to puke didn’t seem to sit well with healing insides.

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In the spring of this year, I decided to tackle the marathon again and chose Twin Cities in October, running on behalf of the National Kidney Foundation. Training was a little tough due to our hot humid summer in the Midwest, but slowing down probably helped keep my legs fresher for race day than some of my previous training cycles. I also completed two Olympic-distance triathlons this summer. I probably now pay marginally more attention to the color of my urine than most endurance athletes, but other than that I haven’t changed things up (other than of course, no ibuprofen, ever, which I don’t really miss).

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At Twin Cities, I decided to hit every aid station in the race and probably drank 2-3 ounces of water and Gatorade at each stop. This helped me finally ingest the ever-elusive (for me) third gel during the marathon and kept my energy levels even. I finished in 3:48:23 and was thrilled – not a PR (but I am six years older) but a BQ and most importantly, I felt great the whole way and peed as soon as I got back to the hotel!

A few days after finishing I didn’t have the typical “I’m so tired of running and never want to train for a marathon again”. In fact, by day four I was missing it so I decided to experiment and sign up for another marathon within four weeks, something I had never attempted prior to donation. I completed the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in early November and was only three seconds slower! I would definitely say I’m back to my former self, with maybe even more endurance.

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I see my recipient, Jon, from time to time and he’s doing great, with a fiancée and a new house. We usually go grab a coffee or some lunch and have discovered a mutual love of horror movies. We ran a local 5k to raise awareness for organ donation together in the spring. The race director is a dad at my kid’s school who is a double-lung transplant recipient. Since donating, I’ve met so many people, or discovered people I already knew, who have been impacted by organ donation.

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In the end, I really had no reason not to donate, and I would hope that if someone I loved needed an organ donor, someone would step up and do it.

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