It has now been 16 months since I said goodbye to my spare, and sent it to live with a very nice gentleman in Bainbridge Island, Washington. I can honestly say, after much reflection, that the past year and a half has been the best time of my life, and that the act of donating my kidney has enhanced my life in ways that I never could have imagined.
Let me start by saying that I have experienced zero negative physical, mental, or emotional after effects from the procedure. I am stronger and healthier than I have ever been. When I began the process of donation, they told me that the maximum BMI for a kidney donor was 32, and I was 15 pounds over the limit. That news was the kick in the pants that I needed to get off of my fat butt, put down the Ben and Jerry’s, and lose the weight. I did, and I have not gained it back. The donation process sharpened my focus and increased my motivation to stay strong, active, and committed to my health. In the last year, I have completed a 100 mile bike ride, a simulated climb of Mt Rainier, and a JFK50, which is a 50 mile walk.
Two years ago, the old me would have come up with a hundred reasons why I couldn’t find the time to commit to achieving these physical goals. But the truth is, I didn’t have the focus and motivation. Not long after I donated, during a workout, I was listening to an interview with the great Warren Miller, who made all those great skiing movies in the 80’s and 90’s. He said something that really resonated with me, and it has become my new motto.
Donating a kidney really caused me to reassess my life, and focus on what is important; my health, my marriage, my adventures, my goals, my family, and my community, and to make them a priority in a way that they weren’t, back when I was sailing through life on cruise control, constantly thinking, “Boy, I sure would like to do that someday…”
A second way that donating a kidney has improved my life is that it has made me a part of an incredible community of people, whom I would have never made contact with, had I not donated. The kidney donor club is very exclusive. Not many people have done it. The people who have are some of the kindest, most thoughtful, charitable, positive, driven people I have ever encountered. I paid my dues and I am proud to be in this club and associated with these people. I admire their commitment to advocacy and I hope to follow in their footsteps. And it’s not just fellow donors who are a part of my life because of this. I have a relationship with my recipient and his family, which I value very much. I was even able to meet with the surgeon who performed my nephrectomy and spend an afternoon giving him a tour of my tugboat. All of these incredible people are now a part of my life because I decided to donate a kidney. In turn, my life is better because they are a part of it.
Lastly, and I hesitate to mention this, but it is the truth and I want to be completely honest. I really didn’t go into this because I wanted any recognition, and I hardly told anybody my plans beforehand. I thought I was going to play this close to the vest and carry the quiet satisfaction of having done this with me for the rest of my life. But as I have dipped my toes into the waters of advocacy, and realized that so many people out there have no knowledge of paired kidney exchange, or the National Kidney Registry and living organ donation, I decided to open up, tell my story, and spread the word about this incredible process that has saved so many lives and has the potential to save so many more. Here’s what I get back, when someone finds out that I am an altruistic kidney donor;
“Oh my God, you are amazing!” “You are my hero!” “I can’t believe you were brave enough to do that!” “That is the most incredible thing I have ever heard!” And on and on..
Now, basking in adulation is not something I had ever experienced or was comfortable with. It took me some time to get used to people telling me that I am awesome. Okay, 4 seconds. That is how long it took for me to get used to people telling me that I am awesome. 4 seconds. And then this pudgy, balding, middle-aged man’s considerable ego decided that it really liked hearing those things. And I think that’s okay. It feels good to hear those things, and it helps my confidence and motivates me to continue to spread the word, and help as many people as I can help. Positivity feeds on positivity, and hearing those things makes me want to live up to them.
So where do I go from here? Everywhere. I’ve got plans, and those plans are written in ink. I am going to take my wife to Europe three more times before we are 60. I am going to climb Mt Kilimanjaro with a like-minded group of donor friends. I am going to complete the Pacific Crest Trail through the state of Washington, and maybe beyond. I am going to travel to New York and participate in the Donor to Donor conference, and learn how to be a better advocate. And when I am not doing those things, I will be walking my dogs in the hills above my little town, picking up litter, helping the neighbors, donating blood, and taking out the garbage without being asked. Really. I promise.