Meet Kidney Donor Athlete, Rebecca!

For the bulk of my adult life, I worked hard at being inactive, however, it was really more of a will issue rather than anything else. At age 11, I became vegetarian and at age 31 vegan so overall I was a healthy eater – which is a stark contrast to being a healthy person. On December 11, 2017, after looking unhappily in the mirror and getting a mediocre report from my doctor, I made a conscious decision to make healthier choices. I stopped drinking alcohol entirely and set a goal to run a half marathon in 2018.

 

In the beginning I could barely run one mile so I started going to the gym multiple times per week trying to improve my fitness. Running officially started in March, by May I could run three miles. I followed a three times per week fitness regimen to prepare for the International Half in Detroit, my first half marathon ever.

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In January of 2019 with great numbers from my doctor, I decided to see if I could become a kidney donor to someone known only through Facebook. I also signed up for a second half marathon scheduled for May of 2019.

 

The testing was extremely disruptive in my training. One test was 27 vials of blood which wiped me out for a couple of days! In February, I was cleared to donate but not to my original person. He got what can be described as a “kidney voucher” (which he is now trying to use). Because my blood is type O, my kidney matched people in Michigan, Tennessee and Georgia and surgery was set for March 15th. And like that, my spare kidney was donated!

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I had great support throughout the process. My husband was totally fine with it – he says now that he knew as soon as I said I was thinking about it that I was going to for sure do it. My kids are little, but they were totally on board as well. My parents thought I was nuts because there is a chance that I would need the kidney someday.

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I think with all the testing they do ahead of time that the chances of needing the kidney are very small. My friends were super supportive. I am very involved at church and they were the most supportive of all. They brought meals and did my laundry and even visited me in the hospital They were great.

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I wasn’t nervous going into surgery. I am not a very emotional person so I was totally fine. I’ve had a lot of surgeries in the past (hysterectomy, c sections, ankle surgery…) so I wasn’t worried at all about the recovery. But I should have worried a little because it was tougher than I thought.

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I requested that no narcotics be used post-surgery, a request that was ignored. Coming out of sedation was easy, but to “ease my pain” they used morphine, to which I am allergic. The first three days were extremely difficult because every pain medication they gave me caused extreme nausea.

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I really had to fight to stay in the hospital for two days. I was up and moving immediately as soon as I could get up because I read that the gas pain was terrible and the only thing that makes it go away is walking, which I think is totally sage advice. I stayed a second night (after arguing with the doctors about the need) and the second night was totally miserable. They brought in a drunk girl who had fallen down the stairs (along with her boyfriend) into my room and she vomited everywhere. I was extremely nauseous from the pain meds the nurses gave me and her throwing up made it a million times worse. I suppose it gave me the energy I needed to get out of the hospital. I actually complained after I left. Once home I immediately stopped all medications which caused more nausea and the night sweats, but by day four I began to feel normal again.

I have a blood disorder which is much like hemophilia so I was bruised from head to toe for weeks. But seven days after surgery, I went to the gym and walked one slow mile.

From that point I began the road to recovery, having about eight weeks to prepare for my upcoming half marathon. I did run in the half and it was the hardest 13.1 miles of my life. I for sure pushed myself to complete the race and was still not completely healed, but my time was only 7 minutes longer than what was, at that time, my PR. My radio went out a mile in making it more of a mental challenge rather than a physical one.

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Subsequently, I have continued to run several times a week to prepare for Ragnar and then for my recent half marathon. The only real difference now that I have one kidney is that it takes a lot more water now to remain hydrated. And if I don’t remain hydrated, I get a wicked headache.

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Outside of what described above, I didn’t have many hurdles in recovery. Doing a sit-up or any type of abdominal work is still a challenge, but more because I am out of practice. I need to drink water and get out of my mental roadblock to persevere which is a work in progress.

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In the months post-donation, I have met a few recipients who are trying to get me involved in some advocacy work and have spoken to a lot of potential donors who are on the fence. But I wouldn’t say that advocacy is really my strong suit. I have posted a lot of pictures running in my donor tank because lots of people know I donated a kidney, I want them to know you can still do great things.

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If you are considering becoming a living donor I would tell you that it is one of the most gratifying things I have ever done. I don’t know how to describe it – people always think you are some saint for donating something, especially to a stranger. To me, I did what I KNOW God would want me to do. I really don’t feel different mentally or physically, so why not give an organ to someone who needs it? I would for sure do it again in a heartbeat. The worst part was the week after donation. You are weak and feel crappy. Then, you start to turn a corner and you feel AMAZING again. I don’t drink, and there are some medications you can’t take, but I didn’t take them anyway.

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