Meet Kidney Donor Athlete, Corey!

I was born and raised in New York City and my passions have always been learning and sports, so it was probably inevitable that I became a researcher-professor and have been a life-long runner.

Vancouver 1st half_best time since donation

My chosen discipline is genomics, basically looking at all one’s genes and how they interact with one’s environment to make us who we are. I’m a professor of translational genomics at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.  As I remind my students now is the absolute BEST time to work in this field, because nearly anything is possible. When I was in graduate school I sequenced one gene for my Ph.D., 2 years ago I sequenced my entire genome in one week! And just last year the world witnessed the first successful gene therapy trial where genome editing was used to cure several patients with sickle cell disease.

Hero_in Addis Ababa
Meeting a marathon legend in Ethiopia to teach a genomics workshop at the University of Addis Ababa, 2019

I am equally passionate about training in general and running in particular. In high school, I was an okay cyclist (Cat 3 racer) but once I started graduate school, hours on the bike were hours I wasn’t in the lab. Running was always available, and required so little preparation, so it became my passion, and the thing that helped me maintain my sanity.  I have been fortunate to live in great running places, New York, Philadelphia, Boulder, San Francisco, Toronto, southern Norway and now Vancouver, BC.

Dreading the start of the Yukon arctic ultra, 2017
Dreading the start of the Yukon Arctic Ultra, 2017

As a research scientist, I’ve always been amazed at the robustness and resilience of the organism, and I have leaned on that knowledge any time I’ve been injured. I guess that understanding played a part in my eagerness to donate a kidney, knowing that the body can recover, compensate, and thrive. The philosophical aspect of donation also intrigued me. After reading Larissa MacFarquhar article “The Kindest Cut” about anonymous donors in 2009 in the New Yorker and then her book Strangers Drowning in 2015 I could not shake the desire to donate. I had no one to donate to, so I decided on an anonymous donation.

 

When I turned 50, I made the decision that I wasn’t getting any younger nor was my kidney, and having no kids of my own and no family members in need of one the timing seemed right. The decision was simple, the process not so much. The fantastic team at BC transplant shepherded me through all the testing over the course of 6 months, then I had to wait a few months more so that my donation could start a chain. While I was certain that this was what I wanted and that it made sense, my family was less certain. They were confused more than anything, unsure why I would put myself in potential harm, for “no good reason”. But in a few weeks, they came around, not necessarily enthusiastic, but supportive. The argument that carried the day was that it made me happy to think of my donation, and in fact, it still does.

Northern Trails Marathon Age group win
Northern Trails Marathon age group win

The surgery was uneventful, and 48 hours later I was walking gingerly around Vancouver, 2 weeks post-op I jogged a mile and 3 months later I signed up for Boston. It was the weather, not my surgery conspired against me and I dropped out at mile 14, along with a van full of freezing elite athletes. Undeterred, I ran the Vancouver Marathon 2 months later, and my time was within 30 sec off my last pre-donation marathon (3:23). I’ve since done 3 more marathons, including the Midnight Sun Marathon in Tromso Norway, waaaay north of the Arctic Circle. By the way, it was 39 degrees, rained the entire time and no one saw the sun at midnight!

The not-sunny midnight sun marathon Tromso, Norway 2019

So these the facts, and my motivation for documenting these facts is that when I was thinking about donating, a primary concern about the surgery and donation was whether or not I was going to be able run and specifically run marathons. While no one flat out said “no”, no one said yes either.  Being a research scientist, I was certain there would be good data available, but I was wrong. There is actually very little in the way peer-reviewed literature or even case reports- so my best source of information was anecdotal narratives on the web.

Admittedly, my story is just another narrative, and while “the plural of anecdotes is not data” at some point the weight of the evidence- my story- and all of the others on this fantastic website-underscore the reality that kidney donation and long-distance running are perfectly compatible.

first post-op marathon
First post-op marathon

There are other benefits as well. Invariably, when I reach mile 18 of a marathon- just far enough from the finish to get really existentially angsty- I have something most of the other runners don’t- the knowledge that I was able to do something unequivocally positive and bounce back to resume running with the same excitement and enthusiasm.

I just finished my 26th marathon recently and look forward to running NYC this November. I’ve run it 8 times, and my second 1K version.

Waiting for the start in NYC
Waiting for the start in NYC (Good luck this year Corey!!)

Leave a Reply