I grew up on a farm in the Texas Panhandle, and I’ve been running since I was in the fourth grade – something about trying to beat my older sister in the presidential fitness mile run. Between running and horse riding, life was great. In the fall of 2004, I ran my first trail race. In 2004, I enlisted in the Navy. I became incredibly out of shape at boot camp, but while I was enlisted, I received an appointment to the US Naval Academy. I got back in shape my plebe (freshman) year and in 2007, made the USNA cycling team. From 2007-2012, I raced bikes all across the USA. At my best, I raced with the pro-1/2 field, but eventually, balancing my Navy obligations and cycling became too stressful, and I stopped racing to focus on my career.
In 2013, my Navy assignment took me to the Pacific NW. I fell in love with trail running there. In 2015, I competed in my first Ultra-marathon, a 50K. Since then, I’ve done a handful of 50Ks each year and two 50 milers. I love trail running!
I know the power of organ donation because of how it’s impacted my life. My living donor story started in high school when I watched my sister go through pregnancy on dialysis. She eventually gave birth to my nephew when she was 6 months pregnant. My nephew is now a teenager, and my sister received a perfectly matched kidney from my brother after almost a year on dialysis. My brother is a hero, and my sister’s unconquerable spirit is infectious. She’s the real badass of the family – she runs ultramarathons on a donated kidney. Minds, bodies, and modern medicine are so powerful!
Since my brother’s donation in 2002, my sister has become an advocate of organ donation – she has cycled across Texas, run multiple ultra-marathons, and competed at several Transplant Games of America (TGA), all in the name of raising awareness of how the donation of one organ has a positive ripple effect on others. She embodies perseverance and positivity.
In the Fall of 2018, I watched her compete at the TGA in Salt Lake City. I left humbled. It’s one thing to run a 5K in a body that is wholly yours and something entirely different to do it with parts (heart, lungs, kidney, liver) from someone else. Many of the athletes there had at one point been on the verge of death, and there they were, among their family and friends, full of life and gratitude! The zest, humility, and passion I saw in Salt Lake moved me, and I knew that, if given the opportunity, I would become that difference for someone else. No donation is wasted.
When I returned home, I started the process of becoming a donor. I thought to myself, “I’ve had a great life, so even if donating slows down my run time, it won’t stop me from running or being active, AND more importantly, someone else gets a chance of a normal life.” After reading on different types of donation, I decided to become a non-directed donor. Knowing that donating one of my kidneys would give multiple people transplant opportunities made it the right thing to do – in the end, there was really no decision to make.
After starting the living donor process in Fall of 2018, I ran a 50K in Utah and the JFK 50 miler. I finished the big work up for K-day a few weeks before the 50 miler. It was one of the best races I’ve had, but knowing I would likely be matched and run my next ultra on one kidney made the finish extremely emotional. A week after the race, I received the call that I matched and surgery would be a few days after Christmas.
I was elated (and still am) to find a match! Most of my coworkers thought (and still think) that I was crazy to want to donate a kidney to someone I didn’t even know. Knowing that donating would help multiple people be healthier made it an easy thing to do.
Two of my sisters and my mom flew in for the surgery at MedStar Georgetown University (MSGTI) hospital in Washington, DC. The night before, we explored the decorated city. During the pre-op, I learned that the kidney would be staying in DC and kick off a chain of four donations. I felt great going into surgery – nothing like giving up a part of you for someone else at Christmas.
Surgery happened – after getting over some anesthesia induced sickness, I felt pretty great. I got up and walked multiple times before going to bed for the night. The next day, I learned that ultra-K was properly functioning in its new home. Aside from being sore, I didn’t have any pain, so I declined the additional pain meds they offered up. The surgery was laparoscopic, so I only had a few little wounds and one large incision.
I was released the day after surgery. I felt like I had done an intense ab workout, but felt good otherwise. Once we arrived home, I did some extensive napping. I would wake up for food and a few TV shows and then napped again. Five days after surgery I went on a two-mile hike with my sister. I felt great, so the following day (New Year’s Day), we went for a five-mile hike. I rested a day, and the following day, we did another 6-mile hike. Aside from being tired, I didn’t feel bad…ok, except for sneezing…and then I felt like my guts were going to fall out. 🙂
I went back to work 11 days after surgery. Even though I was not on my feet a lot (I work in manufacturing), I felt great. I did a 2 mile run 2.5 weeks after surgery…not sure if the Dr. would have approved, but no one knows your body like you know your body.
It’s been almost four months since the surgery. I did a 10 mile run 5 weeks post op and ran a 25K trail race mid- April. I’m a little slower than I was pre-donation, but that’s from not training a lot. I rest a little more than I did before, but overall, I am the same healthy, happy person.
Overall, becoming a kidney donor was one of the best decisions of my life. It has given me a heightened sense of appreciation for the wonderful people in my life and all the blessings God has provided. The transplant team at MSGTI were great – they made the experience that much better. I am so grateful for the opportunity to help other people, raise awareness for the good that one person can make via living donation, and this wonderful community of living donor athletes!
Such a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing it!
You rock. Margaret Collins