Meet Kidney Donor Athlete, Shayna!

My name is Shayna, and I’m a powerlifter turned 1-kidneyed CrossFitter! My journey to donation started when my 24-year old brother-in-law became sick several winters prior. After a month of testing and hospitalizations, he was put on dialysis and added to the transplant list after learning his kidneys had completely shut down from an unknown virus. Nearly everyone in the family decided to apply to be his donor.

I started the donation application process in the Fall of 2017. Being a college student and working several jobs made it difficult to find time to travel 2 hours to our transplant center for testing and appointments. This definitely stretched out my timeline to get approved. My surgeon expressed his concern over removing a kidney from someone so young (I was 23 at the time), and we had a lot of conversations around how donation could affect me long term. After what felt like forever, I was finally approved for donation in late Summer of 2018. When I got the call from my surgeon, he told me I was a match for my brother-in-law and could donate directly to him if I choose. He also told me that I have the option of joining a donation chain, with my kidney going to a stranger and my brother-in-law receiving his from a stranger. I don’t think I even hesitated when I told him I wanted to join the chain. The more kidneys the merrier, right? So my brother-in-law was scheduled for surgery on January 2, 2019, and I was scheduled for January 16, 2019.

I wasn’t nervous about the surgery itself, but I was nervous about the recovery and what being active would look like down the road. I have always been pretty active, playing volleyball throughout high school and recreationally in college. I began weightlifting my second year in college and fell in love with feeling strong and powerful. Lifting was how I distressed from the day and I considered it my “me time.” I continued to weightlift throughout college and through the 1-year post-grad before my surgery. I was lifting heavy weights and doing (the tiniest bit of) cardio 4-5 days a week. I worried that I might have to limit the intensity of my workouts or might not be able to ever lift again (dramatic, I know).

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My surgery went perfectly and my left kidney had a new home! As soon as I could talk, I was asking for a cheeseburger but settled for broth for a few meals instead. My hospital recovery was fairly uneventful, and I was discharged after 4 days. While my recovery in the hospital went smoothly, my experience completely flipped when I went to my parents’ house to finish recovering.

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I was in tons of pain and wasn’t able to wean myself off of the pain medication as quickly as I had hoped. My head was foggy and I was extremely emotional. I developed some minor complications that landed me in the ER twice – thankfully the complications were not severe and I was sent home with more pain medicine. I was pretty frustrated with the slow pace of my recovery. I had read stories about donors going on mile runs at 3-4 weeks post-op, and I could barely walk for longer than 20 minutes without feeling exhausted. It took some time to accept that recovery is different for everyone and that I needed to take my time to heal as my body was ready. Two weeks later than anticipated, I was finally able to make it through the day on Tylenol alone, which was a huge step in my recovery! I was feeling more clear-headed and could drive again! I’m so grateful for my family who took care of me during recovery, especially my mom who made me walk at least a mile each day to keep me active.

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Shayna with her brother-in-law, Devon.

I used a full 6 weeks to recover before returning to work, and it took me around 3 months to finally feel back to my normal self physically and emotionally. I was itching to get back into the gym and return to my normal schedule, but I was a bit scared to push myself too hard. My personal trainer at the time suggested I go to physical therapy before returning to heavy exercise. That was some of the best advice I got! I learned more about how my incisions impacted my muscles and relearned how to engage my core. That step helped relieve some of my fears about exercising, and I was slowly able to get back into the swing of things to begin lifting again.

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In September of 2019, I decided I was ready for another challenge and joined a CrossFit gym. I have discovered a whole new appreciation for my body and what it can do. My overall journey has had its ups and its downs, but I could not be happier with the decision I made to donate. Along the way, I’ve met other amazing donors including my brother-in-law’s donor, Bobby. It’s so great to be connected to a community of donors and have that much more support. I’m now looking into more opportunities to continue helping others through donation, from blood to marrow to liver donation! I’ve never felt stronger!

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Shayna’s sister, brother-in-law, Shayna, and Bobby (left to right)

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