Meet Kidney Donor Athlete, Maranda!

I never knew how much the “Share Your Spare” panel I attended on May 2019 at the university where I work would change my life. I had two acquaintances who had previously done direct kidney donations, which got me curious, but it wasn’t until I listened to the stories of the donors and recipients on the panel that really lit something inside of me. I felt like donation was something that I really wanted to do – share MY spare – even if I didn’t personally know of anyone in my life at the time who needed a kidney.

I reached out to U.W. Health in Madison, WI shortly after and was connected to my amazing coordinator, Leza. I went through a full day of testing and medical exams. After the initial testing day, I had a few more evaluations to do. I will always remember the exact moment I received an email back from Leza that I had been approved to donate and put into the National Kidney Registry! I shrieked so loudly in my office but luckily my coworkers pretty much figured out the reason right away since they knew I was on pins and needles waiting to hear. I called my husband and cried so much. I was finally approved to help save someone’s life.

From my first day of testing to when I received my approval was about three months. The next day my husband and I were in Cabela’s when I got THE call. “Maranda, we have a match offer for you. Your match is an individual who is between 40-50 years old, in Massachusetts, and is someone who is hard to match with. Do you accept this offer?” Within 24 hours of my approval, I already had a match offer! There was no way I could turn this down – someone needed my kidney and I was more than willing to say yes. After sitting down with my boss to figure out things with work, a leadership program I was involved with, and a half marathon I was scheduled to run with a friend, my surgery was scheduled for Nov. 21, 2019. Betty, what I named my donated kidney, was about to head to MA. I was excited, nervous, anxious, and about every other emotion you could imagine. 

My current fitness journey started back in January 2017. Growing up, I had always been pretty healthy and active. I was in softball, soccer, and cheerleading. During my junior year of high school, I enlisted into the Wisconsin Army National Guard as a 91W/Combat Medic. I went to college and earned a Bachelor’s degree, met and married my husband, worked various jobs, had different life circumstances occur, and earned my Master’s degree. I ended up gaining weight and feeling terrible about myself so, during my last semester of graduate school, I decided to make a whole lifestyle change. This is where my whole relationship with running started.

I slowly started doing 5Ks with a friend. Eventually I realized, hey, I kind of like this running thing and started doing more and more, and eventually staring adding on more miles. Friends and I started doing runs, different physical events, and even a half Tough Mudder. With my healthier lifestyle changes with what I was consuming and incorporating working out and running, I managed to lose 75 lb. I hit my weight loss goal about two years before becoming a living kidney donor. 

Now running is a huge part of my life. It not only helps me physically but is also a huge source of therapy for my mental health. I work out every day and usually run three days per week. After I found my love for running, I ran numerous 5Ks and 10Ks and various other distances. After seeing a friend do a half marathon in 2018, I signed up for my first. I created my own training plan and went with it. In October 2018, I ran my first half and shocked myself with a time of 1:59! That was an amazing feeling and I wanted more.

I signed up to do another half in April 2019. I went out for a 7-mile training run one Saturday morning that March. Two days later, I woke up in so much pain, and long story short ended up with a stress fracture in my right hip. It took months of doctor appointments and physical therapy for it to heal (or so I thought). A few months into healing I started running again and doing other physical events. That summer a friend of mine asked to do a half marathon in fall 2019 and asked for my guidance in training. I happily obliged so we started training together last summer. Then I started my living kidney donor process.

After completing our half in October 2019 I had a follow up appointment with my orthopedic doctor. He took one look at my x-rays and told me to stop running immediately because my stress fracture in my hip was very bad (not healed at all like I once thought). Luckily, kidney donation surgery was a few weeks after that so I knew I was going to be sidelined for a few months anyway. I did my altruistic non-direct donation on November 21, 2019, then had time for my whole body to heal and recover. 

By the time I was cleared at the end of January 2020, post-surgery and post-stress fracture healing, I was ready to get back out there! I started easing back into running but had my sights on another half marathon. I started training and ended up running my virtual half in June 2020 due to Covid-19 shutting down in-person races. I wanted to show the world that even after donating a kidney look what you can still do (and recovering from injury, for real this time). That felt so amazing – and I did it in the same time as my first, 1:59! About three months after surgery my recipient and I also connected and it has been one of the most incredible experiences to learn about him and continue to see how he’s doing. He’s doing very well! I really hope we can meet some day – he’s in MA and I’m in WI. 

I’d say recovery went better than expected. This was my first surgery and even though my team kept me very informed, I wasn’t sure what quite to expect. The more difficult parts were managing some of the pain right in the beginning and having to sit on my butt much more than I was used to since I was not able to be too active for the first month or two. I don’t feel there were unexpected hurdles along the way, just more so with the stress fracture in my hip and getting stamina back on my runs early on after being cleared by both teams to run again. 

At times I’d have some discomfort with my large incision area while working out or while running, but most of that has ceased. Now, at 8 months out, I’m having some zings and zaps of some pain where Betty was, but I’ll take that any day. I really don’t feel any different now than pre-surgery, I just almost feel like a new sense of being. I felt like I was called to do this. My life hasn’t really changed that much since my donation. I always tried to hydrate well throughout my whole health and wellness journey but now I am especially cognizant of the amount of water I need to be drinking. I also try to watch my sodium intake a bit more carefully.

I really want to keep promoting a healthy and active lifestyle and also be a big advocate for living kidney donation and organ, eye, and tissue donation in general. This has opened my eyes to a whole new world of advocacy. I have formed such a family with donors all across the United Sates and it’s such an amazing experience. 

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