Meet Kidney Donor Athlete, Hannah!

My brother was diagnosed with ANCA Vaculitus in 2018 about a month before I was getting married in Boise, ID. I think that date will stick in all of our heads forever. I’ll always remember not only feeling helpless after all my brother was 2,000+ miles away in Maryland but also pretty devastated that he couldn’t be there for my wedding day because of all of the treatment and care he needed back east.  

 

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Later that year it was confirmed that he would need a kidney transplant and would need to start on dialysis almost immediately. The helpless feeling I’d had a few months ago was back, but even stronger this time around. We started the search for a kidney in early 2019 and I wanted nothing more than to give him the gift of life. After a long journey filled with multiple donors and two different transplant centers, we eventually discovered that I was a perfect genetic match for my brother and I don’t think there is a word for how we felt.  

 

I have always been an athlete (so has my brother), I played field hockey at a pretty high level growing up and even had a scholarship offer to play Division I. I went a different path and played golf in college but sports have always had a special place in my heart, few things can match the feeling of training and competition.

 

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Moving to Idaho, I started taking up a few new post-college activities - biking and running to be specific. In the year and a half leading up to my brother’s transplant, I started running half marathons and even won a few of my age groups. It had been a little while since I had felt that level of competition, but it was wonderful! At that point, I was probably running about 25-30 miles a week while also biking, hiking, and avidly walking my dog.  

 

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When I found out I was going to be able to donate my kidney to my brother I honestly think I kicked it into overdrive. I was determined to give him the healthiest kidney possible (and honestly, I felt like if I kept running maybe it would help him get back to running, his college sport when he got the kidney). I was active at least 6 days a week, people who know me know I don’t spend a lot of time sitting unless I’m really sick.  

 

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The transplant came in March of 2020 and I ran almost every day leading up to it. My husband and I even walked the 3.5 miles from our hotel to the hospital on the day of the surgery. Once I woke up it wasn’t more than about 8 hours before I was anxious to start walking around again. That’s not to say I didn’t feel like I had just had surgery – I certainly did, but there’s apparently not much that can keep me from activity.

 

Over the next few days, I started walking more and more and by day 3 or 4, I think I was keeping up with everyone around me. We were walking several miles a day within a week of the surgery and by my one-week post-op follow-up, I was confirming with the surgeon just exactly how long I had to wait to get back to activity. For the first few weeks, it was hard to not be as active as I wanted, but we found ways that fit within my surgery teams’ limits. Think lots of hiking and biking. 14-days post-op was when I got the okay to start jogging again, which I did, slowly.

 

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Within three weeks I was back to full activity and honestly, I felt no different, other than my fitness took a two-week hiatus. The biggest hurdle was trusting my surgeon/care team and realizing that they do this a lot more than I do. I had to push past the fact that I felt okay, and really lean into what they were telling me in order to not risk my health or causing complications. I am four months post-op and honestly, I haven’t noticed a difference. I am back to running several days a weeks and I’m biking 100+ miles a week while also doing all the walking and hiking I was doing before.  

 

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Physically I don’t feel any different than I did pre-surgery. The first few days were tough, but looking back I would do it 100 more times if I could. The only thing that feels different is the joy I have knowing that when my brother comes to visit me in Idaho for the first time this year, we may get to go on a run together…how cool? We’ve never run together and now, not only is he running again with my kidney inside him, but we might get to do it together.

 

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I would encourage everyone who can to find out more about donation, it’s absolutely worth it, and it will only have a positive impact on your life. I am more motivated than ever to get outside, compete, and build my fitness for life. I’m planning on running my next half in September along with my first bike race! 

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