Meet Kidney Donor Athlete, Ken!

Come Back Ken:

My road to donation may have started a little different than most but we will get there.  My journey started back in May 2018 while running the Buffalo marathon.  Up until this point, I was always a weekend warrior and considered myself to be a somewhat decent athlete playing lacrosse and hockey in college and completing a few marathons post my collegiate days.   

While running the Marathon around mile 18, I hit a pothole and my hip popped out.  Not thinking anything of it and running high on endorphins I slammed it back in and kept going.  Three miles later the pain began to spasm which led me to thinking I pulled a muscle.  Stopped to stretch and upon getting back to my feet realized I could no longer run so I walked the remaining 5 miles to the finish line, finishing at a modest 4:20.  I went to the doctor the following day and was told it was likely a pulled groin, as we never ran X-rays, and to stay off it for a few weeks.  Fast forward, while skateboarding with my husky, Morgan, I jumped off the skateboard, planted, and my leg exploded.  When I finally regained my bearings and looked down my left leg was bent sideways just below the hip joint in a figure 4 shape, and my heel was upside down facing the sky.  

After surgery which consisted of 2 rods and a few screws to repair the femur which had shattered in 6 places we came to learn that my “pulled groin’  was most likely a stress fracture that had deteriorated over time.  

8 months no weight, & the diagnosis was I would probably never be able to run again! 

8 months I sat.

8 months I gained weight until I ballooned to 281 lbs.

8 months I contemplated, what if? 

What if, I didn’t quit on myself? 

What if, I showed up? 

What if, I decided I was not going to let someone else put a cap on my potential? 

What if….. 

What could I accomplish in 365 days if I didn’t quit on myself, if I showed up, and if I didn’t let fear be a player in my life? What would that look like… 

On March 25th 2019, I was officially cleared to learn to walk again! Since that day, I lost 94 lbs, ran my first mile on a newly constructed leg, completed 2 half marathons, 2 full marathons, and became a triathlete, and Ironman, a Beast, and an Ultra marathoner. One race led to another and I had my WHY and they each made the HOW that much easier. 

While looking through social media posts on September 16th, my birthday, I stumbled upon a post of a young woman in need of help.  She was looking for a kidney and something about her story spoke to me.  What if…? I had my new Why!  The next day I reached out to Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston Massachusetts to begin the process of showing up.  From September 17th to December 21st, I completed the necessary tests, labs, and paperwork that all donors I’m sure have had to endure. The medical staff would always make mention of it to me that the recipient was a complicated case as she already received a kidney when she was 12 from her mother so the likelihood of me being a suitable donor was slim.  We discussed various options such as the swap program but all the while I stuck to the “what if” mentality that came to be my mantra.  

On December 21st while at work, I received the phone call that made everything real: “Ken we are going with you.  We would like to reach out to the recipient and tell her about you… Are you ok with that?”  A hundred thoughts raced through my head: “Holy cow this is actually happening.  Oh my gosh what did I just do? ” Which soon became, “Oh my gosh, what an incredible phone call this stranger is going to get a few days before Christmas!”  Up until that phone call, she was nothing more than a face I saw on social media.  The realness of my situation began to set in. I responded that I would like to remain anonymous. 

On March 5th 2020, almost one year after I started to walk again, I was in Boston traveling from my home in Buffalo, NY and walking into Brigham and Women’s Hospital for the fourth time to get ready for surgery.  Up until this day, my friends and family were still trying to talk me out of it, wondering why I would donate to a complete stranger? To be honest, the thought had crossed my mind numerous times as well  but I always came back to the “what if we showed up” mentality. I had made a pact with  myself that I wouldn’t quit on anything for 365 days and this fell within that time line. 

Walking out of pre surgery check-ins was the first time I actually saw the recipient in real life.  Up until now she was just a face on a social media post.  I remember she was sitting there with her family looking nervous and I gave her a smile as I walked past.  She had no clue who I was but it was one of those moments I’ll remember for the rest of my life.  Trying to communicate with no words that everything is going to be ok.  We are in this together!

Post surgery I was finally able to meet my recipient, Cassie, as her cousin happened to see one of my posts on social media.  As I was being discharged from the hospital I headed down to her room with a yellow orchid which signifies new beginnings, and my favorite book that I read while I was laid up: Love Does  by Bob Goff.  I came to learn about her journey more and met her mother and boyfriend and we still talk almost every day.  

20 days post surgery was officially one year since I began to learn to walk again: March 25th 2020.  Naturally, I decided I was going to do a marathon distance.  It took me a little over seven and a half hours but it flew by as I spent that time reminiscing about my year leading up to that day.  Since donation I have won my first race. Due to Covid, almost every race has become virtual.  This particular happened to be a 434 mile race across New York state, known as the NYSVR434. I managed to complete it within 20 days running on average  21.7 miles a day on June 3rd 2020. My other races, Ironman Lake Placid and The Leadville 100, have since been cancelled or rescheduled. But I gladly look forward to the new challenges tomorrow hold.

  

Donating was and is one of the best things I have ever done.  Each and every minute of every day all of us are faced with two choices:  love or fear.  Most choose fear disguised as practicality.  I am forever grateful on that day I had the courage to choose love.  I know for 100% certainty at least to one person it made all the difference.  

When your “why” is powerful, the “how” is easy.

What if….? 

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