Meet Kidney Donor Athlete, Michelle!

About 10 months ago, my daughter announced to our family that her husband Bryan was in the beginning stages of kidney failure and was going to need a kidney transplant.  This was not unfamiliar territory for Bryan or his family.  His mom, sister and aunt all had someone else’s kidney in their bodies.  His mom actually got her kidney from my daughter.  His sister received her kidney from what was her fiancé at the time and now her husband.  (The running joke in their family is that you have to donate an organ to join the family.)

My daughter mentioned to us that we needed to start looking for a donor now to hopefully avoid Bryan ever having to go on dialysis.  When she said we needed someone with type O blood, I felt disheartened.  I wanted to give but my blood type is A+.  We started asking everyone we knew and posting all over social media trying to find a donor.  We thought we had one but something in her lab work disqualified her.  We kept looking.  Because we were going through all of this, I got to thinking that there are lots of people out there that need a kidney and I am sure I am a match for someone.  That is when I started to complete the application.  While doing so, I learned that there was an option that I could be a part of my son-in-law getting a kidney if I agreed to be part of an exchange.  I submitted all the paperwork, did all the tests and was approved to donate.  Because I am blood type A and he is O, they said that it is one of the hardest exchanges to make happen and it would most likely be 2-5 years.  That’s ok.  I would just be the backup plan and we would keep searching.

What seemed like forever but was only 3 months from the day I was approved, we were notified that we had an exchange!!!!!  The timing was perfect.  My son-in-law was down to less than 5% kidney function and would need to start dialysis in just a couple weeks.  Through this exchange, 3 people received new kidneys.

My daughter hugging (and crying) Griffin who, because of his gift, she gets to keep her husband.
My daughter hugging (and crying) Griffin, who, because of his gift, she gets to keep her husband.

It started with Mackenzie that I believe was in her mid 20’s.  She had no skin in the game.  She just knew that this was something she could do and it would save someone’s life.  WOW!  She had no family or friends that had kidney issues.  What an amazing person.  The second donor was Griffin.  He is a 21-year old young man that wanted to give his kidney to his dad.  Twice they were scheduled for direct donation and twice one of their lab results at the last minute prevented them from going through with it.  The second time it was determined that they were no longer a match.   What looked grim for them actually made it possible to do this exchange so that three lives instead of just one could be forever changed. 

Bryan with his donor Griffin
Bryan with his donor, Griffin

The exchange went as follows:  Mackenzie gave to Griffin’s dad.  Griffin gave to my son-in-law and I gave to a 36-year old man who had been on dialysis for 8.5 years.  He has only a brother for family and no friends so no one out there fighting for him to get a kidney.  I am still overwhelmed when I think of the whole thing.  It seems like such a small thing for me to do and it has such a huge impact on another person’s life. 

My daughter and I just before surgery
My daughter and me right before surgery.
My daughter and Bryan just before his surgery
My daughter and Bryan right before his surgery
Me with my kidney brother Phillip
Me with my “kidney brother” Phillip
My great nurse Kelly as I prepare to leave the hospital
My great nurse Kelly, as I prepare to leave the hospital.

We are 5 weeks post-op as of yesterday (9/24/19).  I am anxious to get back to running and biking.  I started running in 2006 and have completed numerous marathons and half marathons.  In 2011 I started my journey with triathlons.  Since then I have completed 2 full distance triathlons, 6 half Ironman races and a bunch of smaller ones.  Prior to the surgery, I had been on a bit of sabbatical from training.  I was just running, biking, swimming or racing as I felt like it with no big races or big plans.  This was kind of where I had been for a couple years after my last Ironman.  I thought it was time to let my body rest and focus on other things like family and friends.

Me when I was actively racing long course
Me when I was actively racing long course

I know that the next time I step up to a start line I will be even that much more grateful for the gift of being able to do it.  My hope is that from this point on, I will use the gift to spread the huge need for living donors.  If I can, then others can.  Let’s wipe out the long waiting list.  I remember the story about the young people on the beach that is covered with starfish that washed up onshore and the young boy is picking them up one-by-one and throwing them back in the ocean.  An older man tries to stop him because he can’t possibly save them all.  The task is too great.  The young boy picks up the next one and throws it in the ocean and says, “I saved that one”.  I may not be able to help everyone that needs a kidney but on August 20, 2019, I helped one and Griffin helped one and Mackenzie helped one.

My daughter and her husband a few weeks after the transplant.
My daughter and Bryan a few weeks after the transplant. 
My son-in-law and my grandsons. They are happy to hev thier dad back.
My son-in-law and my grandsons. They are happy to have their dad back.

At two-weeks post-op, I was ready to run.  The transplant coordinator urged me to wait so I am waiting.  Only two more weeks.  I feel great.  I am walking 3-6 miles 3-4 times a week.  Today, as I am writing this, the weather is beautiful outside for a run but I will be good and just walk (as fast I can) 😊.  Once I am back out there training again, I will be gleaning information from other “one kidney wonders” to see how they handle hydration and nutrition differently than before to make sure I stay safe.

My granddaughter and I just before we remove the sign from my car!
My granddaughter and me right before we remove the sign from my car!