My father’s need for a kidney came about 12 years ago while I was still serving in the military. I was in the middle of a weeklong training exercise when my commanding officer notified me that a Red Cross message had been sent and that my father had been hospitalized. Once I gained access to a phone I was informed that he was in renal failure and had been diagnosed with Wegener’s Disease, which causes inflammation of the blood vessels to your lungs and kidneys and without treatment can be fatal.
Over the next few months, my father was placed on dialysis and began taking steroids. Thankfully, it wasn’t long until his disease went into remission and the immediate need for a kidney was postponed. However, during this time I never knew that I would one day be the donor.
In 2017, reality began setting in and the need for a new kidney was becoming more apparent. As discussions of being placed on the organ transplant list or receiving a kidney from a living donor arose, I felt the need to research what it all meant. Many questions came to mind; how long would my father have to wait for a kidney? The survival rate after receiving an organ from a deceased donor? After a little research, it became clear that a living organ donation from a family member was the best choice. It was then I contacted my parents and told them that I wanted to donate my kidney. My family was accepting of my offer and I began the testing process, and was found to be a suitable donor. As the need for a new kidney became more urgent, my father indicated he did not want to take one of my kidneys, as he was fearful of putting me in a situation where my health was at risk. He told me that he would simply get on the donor list and wait. Of course, I wasn’t having it and knew that I wanted him to get a transplant before he had to go on dialysis so his survival rate would increase.
In mid-summer of 2018, I contacted my transplant coordinator and informed her that I wanted to go forward with the donation sometime in October. Soon thereafter, my father had an appointment with his nephrologist and was told of the urgent need for a transplant. It was then the donation process was set in motion and a date was set for October 17, 2018.
In the few years leading up to my kidney donation to my father, my activity level had increased quite a bit. The increase in activity came from my new interest in ultra-marathon running. That is not to say that I was not active beforehand.
Although there was a time I allowed myself to become overweight in my teens, I have always been active. Having grown up in the mountains of North Carolina, I was constantly in the woods hiking, camping, fishing, and hunting. I spent every day that I could in the mountains behind my parent’s house amongst the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River (Mount Mitchell). My love for the outdoors remains the same today. It was not until I went into the Marine Corps that I realized that I was capable of running at a fairly fast pace (19:04 / 3 miles) and that I surprisingly enjoyed running.
My enjoyment of running and physical activity continued after I left the military and carried over into my journey as a police officer. Of course, the police academy required me to be physically fit, however, my ability to join SWAT required far more. It was here that I truly began to attain greater levels of physical fitness and a desire to test my limits. I began to get involved in competitive events (5ks, 10ks, sprint triathlons, sprint adventure races). I also completed a 2.5 mile swim from the Island of Nevis to St. Kitts. I was not competitive, but managed to finish with decent times. It wasn’t long before the lure of a half marathon came along and then a few more. Rather than to continue in sequence, I skipped the marathon distance and found a 50K and thus began my addiction.
I didn’t allow my addiction to get carried away and merely ran a few more 50ks and a 50-mile race before my donation. Longer distances were on my mind, however, I questioned my ability to get one done post-donation. When sharing these desires and concerns with a friend, he simply said, “I think it is possible, just don’t let it be an excuse to quit.”
Waking up from surgery, I recall how extremely thirsty I was but I could only initially have ice chips. They were amazing! I slowly came out of the anesthesia and recalled simply being tired and wanting to sleep. In the middle of my daze, the surgeon came in to speak with me and ordered that I be given more pain meds. I didn’t recall feeling much pain, however, I was too tired to notice. When the anesthetic drugs eventually wore off later that evening I decided to walk over to my father’s room to see how he was doing. He wasn’t quite ready to go for a walk, but he was doing well. The next day I continued to move about and go for short walks around the halls. Since I was doing well and walking around my urinary catheter was removed and I was released the following day. While at the hospital, my father and I would walk around the halls together to get the recovery going in a positive direction.
The next day I was released from the hospital with instructions to stay active (within reason) and take the pain medication when needed. The last pain medication I received was the day of the surgery. I truly did not feel the need to take any pain medication. Admittedly, there was discomfort at times, but I did not feel as though it was painful. I suppose the lines between discomfort and pain could be blurred, nonetheless, I felt that taking the medication was unnecessary.
A week later, I flew from Charlotte, NC back to Chicago, IL where I had recently moved. I was eager to get home and my surgeon felt more comfortable with me flying rather than driving for 10 hours. At this point in the recovery, I was walking normal and it was nearly impossible to tell that I had just gone through major surgery. Granted, I was constantly reminded that I was not quite whole yet, when driving over rough roads.
In the following weeks, I planned on doing absolutely nothing except resting. Having been injured before from running, I knew the best way to recover was rest and that is what I did. Of course, I ensured that I was walking as the surgeon suggested and would go on daily walks of a half-mile to a mile. By the third week, I was walking upwards of three to four miles a few days a week. It was in the middle of my fourth week of recovery that I decided it was time for a run. I was even happier to be running this specific day because it had snowed and running in the snow is one of my favorite times to run.
Prior to surgery, I had already decided that I would go back to running ultra-marathons after the donation. A part of the motivation to do so came from another Kidney Donor Athlete, Eric Pence, who demonstrated that achieving 100 miles was feasible. So, I began my journey back to training and slowly worked my way back up. Around week five post-donation, I ran about 12 miles and continued to slowly increase my weekly mileage and speed from there. I found a 10k with about 1,000 feet of elevation gain to run three months after the donation. I felt really good about my recovery so I pushed myself and managed to finish with a decent time. Four months after the donation I ran a trail half marathon and managed to finish third overall. For the next few months, I did not run any races and continued to train.
Every year in the spring, the Marine Ultra-Runners Club of America (MURCA), hosts a virtual 50k to raise money for a veteran cause. This was my next long run seven months after donation. The year prior I planned a trip up the Barr Trail, starting with the Manitou Incline, to Pike’s Peak in freezing temps (-30 wind chill). This year I joined a few other Marine Corps veterans and enjoyed the beauty of Devils Lake State Park in Wisconsin. The temperatures were quite the opposite at nearly 100°F. The heat certainly tested me as I needed to ensure I remained well hydrated. The next race in my progression to a 100 miler was a 100k race nine months post-donation. This race would be the furthest distance I had ever run and quite opposite of the weather that I enjoy running in, it was again extremely hot. Regardless, I knew that I needed to finish and to finish I needed to stay hydrated. During the race, I found that I was rather dehydrated based upon the color of my urine and decided to walk from one aid station to the next and drink fluids. During a four-mile stretch, I drank over two liters of water and managed to finish the race 7th overall in 12:25. After it was over, I estimated the amount of fluids I drank to be about 3.5 to 4 gallons.
A few months later at my one year donation anniversary, I set out to complete my goal of running 100 miles. This time the weather was much cooler, but hydration remained my primary focus. Many times when temperatures are cool, runners do not feel as though they need to hydrate as much, which can be a mistake. I kept this in mind and managed to maintain a healthy level of fluids to see me through the race. When I began the race I had a goal to finish somewhere near 24 hours. I was being rather ambitious with that goal in mind, however, I did manage to finish at 24:57. Nonetheless, I was simply happy that I finished what I set out to achieve.
The month before my 100-mile race I was unexpectedly in North Carolina where my donation took place. I decided to take advantage of the situation and schedule my one-year post-donation follow up. When speaking with the Physician’s Assistant she asked, “Can you tell that we did anything to you?” I had thought about this on several occasions, however, it truly didn’t set in until it was asked of me. Of course, my answer was, “no” and I truly meant it. Other than the scar in the center of my abdomen and the knowledge that I only have one kidney, I cannot tell that I am any different today, than I was before I donated. In retrospect, it is interesting to think of the fears I once had of donating and possibly not continuing my new-found enjoyment of ultra-running. I see now how unnecessary those thoughts were.