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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!