Meet Kidney Donor Athlete, Jason!

I believe there is a reason and timing for all things and, for me, being able to make a non-directed kidney donation is just one of those amazing moments. July 23, 2020 – A day that was planned for me since before I was born, I just wasn’t aware of it until many years later.  

My story is rather fast-paced in regard to the organ donation process. I have always “checked the box” figuratively and literally when it came to organ donation. From saying I was wide open to organ donation if ever there was a time to getting the little logo on the driver’s license to make it permanent. Prior to July 23rd, I really was just living with an unchecked box. Now, in a heartbeat, I would step up to help if I asked but to be truly transparent, I never felt the call before to take that first step myself and say, “Here I am, I can help”. 

All of that changed in November 2019 when close family friends let us know about the desperate need of a kidney transplant for their daughter, who actually babysat our daughters on many of occasions. So very simply put, there it was: the call I had always been ready to answer. As a Christian and follower of the greatest commands of Love God and Love Others, it was living that out as specifically directed in Luke 3:11 (I will leave out the exact verse in hopes of encouraging you to explore those words). 

Within hours, I had the conversation with my wife about getting tested to see if I would be a match which, almost verbatim, included a look and a “what do you think?”, but I already knew what her answer would be. If there wasn’t a specification for a specific blood type in this case, she would have signed up as well. And so it began, I went online and submitted the questionnaire through Mayo Clinic in Phoenix. 

Let’s fast forward and summarize a bit: 

In March 2020, after continued communication with the family and Mayo Clinic, we received the wonderful news that our friend (the mom) was a match and would be moving forward with the kidney donation for her daughter. As this news had come a few months after the original submission, it did leave me with some time to research and understand more about the donation process and the “living with the need”, which I was able to get from our friend. 

 

The circumstances that played out moved me forward from the unknown of would I be a match for a friend to that of giving to someone who I did not know. So in May 2020, I flew to Phoenix and spent a week at Mayo Clinic going through a battery of tests exploring from top to bottom and inside to out to see if I would be able to be a donor. 

One week after completion of the tests, the medical team met and I received the overwhelmingly joyful news that I was a good candidate to be a living donor and, as my schedule would allow, we could move forward. Knowing the statistics of those in need, especially with O+ blood type, there was no reason to delay. Approx. 1.5 months after the phone call, we were off.  

The surgery was very clear cut, no pun intended. Smooth procedure, no complications, and my kidney was on time for its flight to the recipient at another hospital :). I needed to stay only one night in the hospital and then off I went with a new-found emotions. Emotions mixed with what had just been given and what I had received and of being provided an opportunity to give a gift bigger than I could ever have imagined. There is something incomparable to the feeling received when one gives, and those emotions were outright amazing. 

After the one-week post-op appointment, we were given the all clear to head back home and start on the road to recovery. We will pause here to fill in some details of what fitness and activity looked like pre-surgery. 

For me, prior to 2006, running, biking and swimming was an occasional. A companion to the thoughts of “Well I should probably do something today”, “You will not magically get better” or “Well you have that military PT test coming up next month, better get on it”. It really wasn’t until post separation from military service that I found “IT”. That feeling of joy, comfort, and escape from those physical activities. 

I never set out with plans of achieving certain time goals or imagining that I would be able to run long distances. It was really just a way to find community and exploration to change the outside and well as the inside. But little did I know, as many can relate, that would change as the addiction grew. The mantra of “Set No Limits” was opened up and things progressed. 

I will always remember August 29, 2009 when I crossed the finish line of the Inaugural 1/2 Marathon (aka “mini-marathon”) in Madison, WI. The race allowed me to see that those goals which before were just check boxes that would stay empty were achievable, and what I would come to realize would be just the start to so much more. 

The “more” led to a move from Wisconsin to Alabama in 2009 where things really kicked in. I found “community” in the form of running clubs and training at our local Fleet Feet Sports. The opportunities were endless and it not only provided opportunity, but support, accountability and mentorship. The last, the giving of self by helping others, is what I was and continue to be most grateful for. 

The last decade has included a number of memorable firsts to include: trail running, triathlon, marathon, ultramarathons (50k, 40 mile overnight, 50 mile), and my first and only 101-mile run — well so far. There have been a lot of personal achievements that required a lot of commitment, sacrifice, and struggle but all of them were worth every moment. As much as those events left me with feelings of accomplishment, the giving back truly resonates with me. That came in the form of mentoring and coaching for many training programs, which led me pursuing my RRCA Level 1 Coaching Certification in 2019.  

For me personally, there is nothing more rewarding than walking, sometimes literally, alongside an individual or group of individuals in their pursuit of achieving their goal(s). There are countless memories of group members breaking down after completing the 3-mile mark because for them, that was their “IT”. It was not a one-way street as there are so many people from family to fellow athletes (who we all know often times are “family”) these past few years who have provided me words of encouragement, motivation and guidance. 

The most recent pre-surgery effort was “The Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee”, a 1000km virtual run beginning May 1st, 2020. The deadline to complete the minimum distance was August 31st, 2020. I felt what a better way to have an outlet during the season of the COVID-19 shutdown than a daily grind to pray over the possibility of the upcoming procedure. Little did we know the surgery would be so soon after the start of the run, so it was time to dig in, add in miles and multiple daily runs to complete the run early. So, five days before surgery, I crossed the line. 

I recall a number people asking me, “Do you know the person?”, “Are you nervous?”, “Are you afraid you won’t be able to run or bike as much as before?” For me, the answers were all similar, “No”. I do not know who my kidney went to and I never had doubt or nerves as I knew this was what I was supposed to do. As for what my fitness level would be afterwards, that was secondary to the fact that an individual had a life-threatening need that I could assist with. 

With that being said, five weeks post-op, I am feeling great. Granted, I have not jumped back into marathons and 80-100-mile weeks, but that is to be expected. What I took away from the medical team, and just during time of reflection and goals for myself for after the surgery, was that I was going to focus more on a healthier diet and listening to my body. 

I think it is important to set goals and go after them, even if they seem insurmountable. More times than not, it is the mental aspect that gets in the way of the physical outcome. That is where I am at right now. I am currently looking at exploring more outdoor activities, mentoring individuals to meet their running goals, and the exciting opportunity to share my story of kidney donation and the impact it can make for recipients as well as donors.

I would encourage anyone who is reading this who is considering organ donation, to take the time, do the research and see if it is right for YOU. Whether it be for family or a man, woman or child across the country, you WILL make a difference. You cannot imagine the overwhelming positive emotions that await you. I would also encourage you to read other stories, reach out to past donors and know that a healthy and active lifestyle is a reality and your community of supporters at KDA will be right here for you.  

In conclusion, I want to leave my story with two verses VERY important to me:  

Luke 3:11 and Philippians 4:13 

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