I honestly knew nothing about living kidney donation when I started this journey other than it was something that people did for their loved ones (I had no idea people donated altruistically either!).
This all changed when, in February of 2018, my mom called to tell me that she was in kidney failure and had just come back from testing at Mayo. The first thing out of my mouth: “You can have one of mine.”
The decision felt plain and simple: it was my mom! I had no idea what I was getting myself into but I knew my mom needed me and I could help. Rarely are we able to do something for a loved one who is sick, so I knew I was very, very lucky to be able to help.
Most people’s reaction to hearing about my donation is amazement. They can’t imagine doing something like this themselves and call me brave. Yes, it was brave. It’s brave to have a serious and elective surgery that technically makes you worse off than you were before you started. But what many people don’t realize is kidney donation isn’t as crazy as it seems – you can have a perfectly healthy and normal life with one kidney. You can travel, play sports, run a marathon, have kids and live a long life. Not only can you live a normal life, but you’ve given a second chance to someone and everyone who loves them.
Before donation, I was a fairly active person. I began running when I moved to Chicago in 2010 and since then I’ve completed several races including four half marathons and one full marathon. I also enjoyed strength training and exercised almost daily, along with hiking and skiing out here in Colorado, where I moved to in 2016.
I was approved to donate at the end of August and our transplant surgery took place on September 25, 2018, at The University of Kansas Health System. Before the transplant, I had never had any kind of surgery or stayed in a hospital so, while our transplant center was amazing, it was still a completely new and somewhat overwhelming experience. And then just a few days later, they sent me on my way! I have to admit, it was scary to leave the safety of the hospital.
I went into the process knowing that it would be painful physically but I had no idea what a rollercoaster it would be emotionally. Some people compare it to a wedding, where there’s all this build-up and focus on you and then it’s over. Although instead of going on a honeymoon, you’re sent home in some pain and told to come back in two weeks for a check-up. As someone with anxiety, I was constantly worried that something would go wrong with myself or my mom.
Luckily for us, nothing did. I thought I would go stir crazy from not being able to exercise but I found that I was able to truly give myself the rest that I needed. I started off by going on very short walks and slowly building up to a mile or so. When I hit six weeks, I got back into workouts but I kept them shorter and didn’t push myself too hard. I took things slowly and by January I felt a lot more like myself and was ready to start training again.
I signed up to run the Chicago Marathon in 2019 with my cousins to raise money for the Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation. Their mother passed away just a month after my donation, only further reminding me how lucky I was to have been able to help my own mom.
While training seemed daunting, I knew I was capable and told myself to just get out there and do my best. To my surprise, I was able to run just as I had before surgery and completed training and then, just a year after donating my kidney, finished the Chicago Marathon. I find it truly amazing that I could go through transplant surgery, lose an organ, and then be the same athlete I was before donation. I wish I had more kidneys to donate!