Meet Kidney Donor Athlete, Ann Marie!

My road to kidney donation started a long time ago, back in 2000 actually. At that time, I was in college and got a job working as a dialysis technician at an outpatient clinic. I have two aunts who were dialysis nurses, and one encouraged me to apply and work with her. At the time, I had been planning to go to medical school and I thought it would be a great experience. And, it was, it altered my life in many ways.

First, I learned research and medical education and advocacy are my passion, not being a physician. I also learned just how hard life on dialysis can be. It is draining for the patient, physically, emotionally and mentally. I didn’t know much about transplantation at the time, but I learned. I learned that living donation was not only possible but completely safe. I decided if someone in my family ever needed a kidney I would give one up without hesitation. Hold on to that last part for a minute.  

Fast forward to 2006, I’m out of college and just started in my career. One day, colleague sends an e-mail to our team that said, “I am taking a week off to volunteer at a sleepaway camp for kids with cancer, is anyone interested in information”. I had no kids at the time, and no experience with sleepaway camps, but I thought this sounded like a way to meaningfully give back. And it was, and still is! That e-mail, and that camp, also changed my life. I didn’t know, but those two forces would soon collide.  

The camp I volunteer with, is a magical place. Not just for the children who get to spend an entire week just being kids, but for the volunteers as well. We become a large and extended family, we share in the joy and excitement of 200+ kids per year, we celebrate their wins and encourage them, and we grieve together. Those things bond you in a way that is hard to describe.

In 2015-ish, I heard that a co-counselor was going to need a kidney transplant. I honestly didn’t think too much about it, I didn’t know her that well. I knew of her and knew she was part of my camp family, and it was in the future. I had a  2 young kids and was busy with work and trying to keep myself in some sort of order. I honestly, didn’t really think about it again until this person posted on Facebook in 2016 that they needed to find a donor and the person needed to be O+. I can’t really say why I decided to reply, but I did, almost immediately. I said, send me the paperwork, I’ll get tested. 

Prior to donating I was working out usually 4 to 5 days per week, but I would hardly have classified myself an athlete by any means, it was more just a way to keep from having to invest in new work clothes in the next size up! The testing process for me was actually very long, over 2 years! I had an unknown blood disorder which required a bit of a work-up and plan to ensure I wouldn’t bleed during surgery, and I even had to have a colonoscopy. But through the whole journey I knew I would match and I knew I would give her my kidney. Our date was set, 2/6/18. I donated my left kidney to someone I knew, who I considered camp family, who I now consider just family. I love her, and her whole family.  

Post-donation, I’ve made much more of an effort to be healthy: I hydrate so much more, I limit my protein, and I focus on how my body feels and not how it looks. I am not ever going to be mistaken for an athlete on the street, but I do workout every day. I love to hop on my Peloton bike for a great cardio workout every single day, it’s a great escape for me. I also throw in some weights and I’ve taken up running post-donation. 

In fact, to celebrate my one year post-donation, my best friend ran the Disney Princess Challenge with me (see photo of my crossing my first ever half marathon finish line as snow white). I’m not ever going to qualify for Boston, but I PR-ed on my last half marathon, and I hope to continue to run fun races in exceptional places, like the 5K I did with my son on Disney’s private island, and get more medals, because I really run for the medals! I love that KDA welcomes me, and you, and all kidney donors who move their bodies! This community is a special place, a team I’m so proud to represent. 

I used to find talking about my donation awkward, I’m awkward and uncomfortable when people praise me for things, but I’ve come to realize talking about it is the only way to spread the word, save more lives and grow our team. One day I hope one of my real family members will share her story as she donated her kidney on 7/15/20 to start a chain where 4 people’s lives will forever be changed, because my real life sister is joining this team.

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