I started avid long-distance running back in 2011. I was always athletic growing up, but I had largely stopped exercising while I was in medical school. I finally reconnected with my first love, running, with my first half marathon in April 2011. I was hooked! I went on to run 117 half marathons (in all 50 states!), 32 marathons, and a 50-miler prior to donation. In fact, I ran a half marathon 10 days before and a 5k 2 days before surgery!
My Dad had been struggling with kidney problems for a long time. He has Crohn’s disease, which is an inflammatory bowel disease. Unfortunately for Dad, this disease didn’t just mess up his intestines – it has wreaked havoc on much of his body. My Dad had numerous kidney stones continually throughout my childhood. The stones and the resulting inflammation and scarring eventually severely damaged his kidneys. He lost his first kidney about 15 years ago. His remaining kidney limped along for a while afterward, but he’s spent much of the past few years quite sick. He had to retire from work and found himself unable to do the activities and hobbies he once enjoyed. In October 2016, his remaining kidney finally failed, and he was started on dialysis.
I knew immediately that I wanted to donate one of my kidneys to Dad. Dad was extremely reluctant to even consider the idea, as the thought of something potentially harming me was more than he could bear. But I kept providing him with resources and information about how relatively safe this was for me. In February 2017, I was tested to see if I was a match, and 10 days later, I received the amazing news that I was. After my battery of tests to determine if I was healthy enough to donate, I was finally cleared, and our surgery was scheduled for July 25, 2017.
Thankfully, surgery went well for both of us, and I was amazed by how relatively easy and quick my recovery was. Prior to surgery, my living donor coordinator kept stressing to me how important it would be to walk afterward. Always the overachiever, I found a local 5k (3.1 miles) scheduled for a week after donation. My treatment team told me that as long as I kept it slow and easy, I could try to walk the 5k. So, as soon as I got home from the hospital, I set to work on getting myself ready for the 5k.
At first, I felt so stiff and sore that it was hard to even get up out of the chair. Just standing up straight was a challenge. I began by setting a timer on my phone and walking as much as I could periodically throughout the day. My husband and I would try to go for short walks around the block when I was feeling up to it. While I was so amazingly SLOW, it got a little bit easier with each passing day. I wasn’t sure how the 5k was going to go, but I decided I would give it my best shot, and if I felt like it was too much during the race, I would drop out. My incredible husband entered the race too and walked behind me with a wheelchair just in case I needed it. I had to pause a few times and catch my breath (despite my slow pace!), but eventually, I managed to cross the finish line — without the help of the wheelchair! Despite finishing last, I felt so proud of myself. Getting back to racing (although I use that term loosely) really helped me to feel more like myself again.
I walked my next 5k four days later — I ended up with a faster pace and was not dead last! I continued to walk as much as possible during recovery with a tiny bit of slow running thrown in by weeks 3-4. Five weeks and six days after surgery, I ran my first one-kidney 10k — and I shockingly placed second in my age group! I ran my first one-kidney half marathon seven weeks and four days after donation, and my first full marathon just shy of four months post-op. While I was definitely slower than I had been prior to surgery, it felt so good to get back to doing what I loved.
In my first year post-donation, I ran two full marathons and 15 half marathons. Shortly before our first kidneyversary, my neighbor told me about an ultra-marathon taking place nearby that he was interested in running. I hadn’t really been planning to run more ultras after my 50-miler in 2015, especially not after donating a kidney. But I couldn’t get the thought out of my head. Could I actually do it? Could I finish another 50-miler with only one kidney? I finally decided that there was only one way to find out, and I registered for the race. Training was a challenge with my work schedule and planned travel, but I did my best to make it work. On race day, I filled up my hydration pack with water, made sure I had plenty of electrolytes and other necessities, and resolved to give it my all. I made a point of sipping on my hydration pack regularly and making sure I didn’t become dehydrated. While no 50-miler is ever easy, I found that the miles ticked by more quickly and without leaving me feeling so completely drained. I finally crossed the finish line in 12:26:09, which was a 45-minute PR for me! And one year, 3 months, 2 weeks and 2 days after donating my kidney, I became a one-kidney ultramarathoner! And the best part of all was that Dad was healthy enough to travel, so he and Mom crewed me for part of the race and were able to be at the finish line to watch me cross. It was truly an amazing day.
I also decided to repeat my 50 states half marathon challenge, so now I’m attempting to run a half marathon in all 50 states with only one kidney. So far, I’m up to 7 states with #8 on the horizon soon (I hope)!
I haven’t had to change too much about my fitness routine since surgery, but I have tried to be a little more cautious since donation. I am now extra careful about getting plenty of water during my training runs, and I force myself to drink at each water stop during races. I’ve always been primarily focused on the love of running and not setting PRs with every race, but now I’m even more committed to enjoying the beauty and joy of the sport without putting a lot of pressure on myself to always be better or faster. I can no longer use NSAIDs for any aches and pains, so that is another reminder to me to listen to my body and try to avoid any injuries. But overall, I’m amazed by quickly my life got back to normal. I don’t feel in any way limited by my kidney donation — in fact, I feel that it’s made me stronger. When faced with the challenge of a tough training run or an ultramarathon, I remind myself that I’ve already conquered something so much greater. And that’s really the best gift of all. <3