Hi, I’m Shawna from Spokane, WA. I donated a kidney to my cousin on June 26, 2013.
In the spring of 2013, my cousin Sammi posted on Facebook that she was in need of a kidney. I immediately messaged her, asking how I could get tested. It hadn’t really occurred to me to really think about it. I can’t describe it but I knew deep in my soul that I would be the one donating to her.
The Mayo Clinic sent me what I needed for initial testing and I kept passing. As luck would have it, I had a trip scheduled to Minnesota for Mother’s Day. The Mayo was able to schedule me for the two days of testing right after Mother’s Day so I extended my stay and Sammi and I went to the Mayo. I completed all the tests, was prodded, poked, scanned, and assessed. The call came a few days after I came home that I was a match. I wasn’t a perfect match, but close enough to donate.
The procedure was scheduled for June 26, 2013. I never second-guessed donating. I had done the research, talked to the doctors, and knew that it wouldn’t really affect my health in a negative way. But really, I chose to donate because someone needed help and I could help. Why wouldn’t I? It was a no-brainer.
I was uncomfortable and had some pain post-procedure but it was tolerable. I was released from the hospital two days later and spent the next few days recovering at my aunt and uncle’s house. I was taking short walks and, despite being tired and sore, felt pretty good. I flew home to Spokane, WA less than a week after the procedure, continued to recover and was back to work about 2 ½ weeks later.
Physically, I felt better each and every day. Emotionally, I felt a little sad and empty. Pre-donation, there was a lot of talk about the altruism of donating, that the act of donating will make you happy. There wasn’t much talk, by anyone at the Mayo or in any of the research I had done, about going into a bit of a depression after. I had a support system but kept most of what I was feeling and going through to myself.
Although it did get better, I was in a funk much of the next year. Physically, I had recovered from the donation but little did I know, my life was about to change drastically. I woke up in March 2014 and could hardly walk and that and other unexplainable things kept happening. I spent the next year and a half knowing that something was wrong, trying to figure out just what. The first answer was celiac disease, the second answer was one that both scared me and relieved me at the same time. The relief was in having an answer, although it was one I didn’t want. It turns out I have rheumatoid arthritis. The next year and a half was pretty miserable. I was on low-dose chemo, depressed, and not getting any better. I was not living the life that I wanted to be living.
I had an appointment with my naturopath in June 2016. We changed my meds and he told me about the auto-immune paleo protocol. I spent the weekend researching it and started on Monday, June 20 and never looked back. I was emotionally ready and fully committed to it. Within a few months, I started feeling better and had energy again!
I started working out in September and reconnected with my inner-athlete. I was an athlete growing up. I played various sports throughout the years, but volleyball had my heart. When I graduated from high school, I walked away from all of it. I was active again in my mid-twenties and did a few sprint-distance triathlons and I loved it. Then I stopped. Then I started going to Bootcamp classes for quite a while, and as was the pattern, fell away from that as well.
This time my passion for being active was completely reignited, not to be distinguished. Perhaps losing everything, including an ability to even walk without significant pain, will do that to you. I continued going to Bootcamp classes and then started running. I wanted to do something big so I set a goal to run a half marathon. I had never in my life run more than 6-7 miles but I had this newfound love for running. I completed it in September 2017 and it was the best feeling in the world, one that I’ll never forget.
I discovered trail running last summer and was instantly hooked. Running on the trails, surrounded by nature, combines my passion for the outdoors and running. I accepted a last-minute challenge to do a 29k trail race last June. Now I’m training for my first marathon in May of this year. I’m convinced that it’ll be a one-and-done but I also said I wouldn’t run more than a half marathon and, well, I did! I secretly think this will be my only pavement marathon and might set my sights on an ultra one day.
I’ve got an excellent care team consisting of my primary care physician, rheumatologist, and the naturopath who changed my life. I want to be clear that donating a kidney wasn’t the reason I ended up with celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis. They may have been there before but were silent. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. My health is excellent and my kidney function is great. I make sure I hydrate really well and my care team gives me the okay on my athletic endeavors.
It’s been a wild ride when I look back at everything that’s happened the past few years: kidney donation, a divorce, change of jobs, auto-immune disease, and now remission. Before the kidney donation, I felt like I was living life on the sidelines. The kidney seemed to be a bit of a catalyst for change for me. I just had to walk through the fire to fully realize it. I had to be reminded that I’m determined and strong. I fully appreciate what my body has done, saved a life! And what it’s capable of overcoming and doing.
Even if I knew what would happen, I would do it all over again. I would donate a kidney again and again if I could. My cousin is healthy and happy, which is all anyone could ask for. As am I.