My name is Emily Nowak and on November 2, 2018, I made the best decision of my life and donated my kidney to a stranger.

I made a bucket list in which I wanted to help out a complete stranger. I didn’t know what that was going to be and certainly didn’t think it would be donating a kidney!

I saw Lenny’s story from a Facebook post. He was at a Milwaukee Brewer’s game and had on a t-shirt stating he was looking for a kidney donor. There was just something about Lenny’s story that drew me in and from that moment I knew it was something I had to do.

FB post

The photo from the Brewer’s game that went viral!

Although I didn’t directly donate to Lenny, that’s where our journey began. We entered into a paired exchange program to get him his kidney. Mine went to a man in Pittsburgh, and his friend donated to Lenny.


Emily, Charles (her recipient) and Michael (Lenny’s Donor) at a kidney banquet in Pittsburgh

We both donated through Aurora St. Luke’s hospital in Milwaukee they partnered with the Brewers and that’s how we were able to help spread awareness. We even got to throw out the opening pitch on April 7, 2019!  We’re hoping to do another donor awareness night in September with my recipient and  Lenny’s donor both from Pittsburgh.


Emily, Lenny, and both of their surgeons!

Prior to my donation, I had always been active. I enjoyed hiking, being outdoors and the occasional jog, but I would definitely not have considered myself a runner.

Colorado hiking

Emily hiking in Colorado

In January of 2018, a friend of mine convinced me to sign up for a half marathon. Now keep in mind my running up to this point had been pretty nonexistent, but when I put my mind to something, I don’t back down from the challenge. On May 20, 2018, I ran my first half marathon in Green Bay, Wisconsin in 2 hours and 18 seconds. Once I crossed that finish line, I knew I was hooked! I wanted to sign up for another race, but now getting further into my kidney donation process, I didn’t know when or if I could fit it in.

After volunteering at a marathon in my hometown, I again got the urge to be pounding the pavement. Knowing there was a half marathon coming up in September, I decided to once again sign up and get to training. This time I only had 3 weeks to train. I had stayed fairly active after my last half but hadn’t been doing quite as extensive of training as I had needed. On September 22, I ran my second half marathon in Appleton, Wisconsin. I didn’t beat my time but was once again proud of my performance.


A few weeks after my second half marathon is when I got the phone call that I would be donating my Kidney on November 2, 2018. The surgery went well! I was up and walking about 3 hours after surgery and remember it being a little more painful than I had expected.


I traveled to Ireland 3 weeks post-surgery where I had planned on running a 5K, but a few unexpected travel snags hindered that performance. I did, however, hike many miles during that trip of a lifetime.



Now, just over six months after my kidney donation I have run my third half marathon and am hopeful to complete a full marathon in the near future. I had noticed that this training process had been a little more difficult than the first two times. My body was often more fatigued and it was harder to stay motivated. However, I felt more ready than ever to tackle this challenge and to advocate for kidney athletes everywhere.


In my experience, donating my kidney was the best decision I’ve ever made. Not only did I impact the lives of two others, but my life was significantly benefited as well. It is a small price to pay for a huge reward for the recipient and their family. I would encourage anyone interested at all to research first, and then decide if this is something they feel passionate about doing.

goat yoga

Goat yoga!

I will be sure to keep you posted with my next race. Until then, I’ll be hitting the roads and keeping my hydration in check to be the best I can be!



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