My name is Laura Saros. I live with my husband and three girls about 45 miles outside of Chicago and recently celebrated 7 years post-donation. I’m a homeschooling mama, special education teacher, yogi, and avid reader. The question I get asked most often when people learn that I am a living kidney donor is “Why did you decide to donate?”
My “why” is a little fuzzy–I just knew. Even as I look back, I am unable to pinpoint a specific reason why I volunteered. Maybe it’s simple: someone asked for help, and I felt equipped to make his life better. I’ll share my story:
My brother-in-law, Brent, was diagnosed with Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) in his late teens. He immediately learned that this is a degenerative disease and he would one day need a transplant. In 2012, it was time for Brent to find a donor and he put out the call. With this sense of urgency, I knew that I would become his donor–because the “pieces” were all seemingly in place. We both have October birthdays, married into the same family, and are absurdly proud of our A+ blood type. How could I not be a match?!?
I obviously took this request much more seriously than that. I discussed in detail with my husband, my doctor, and my OB: “What were factors I need to consider? What complications could I possibly have? What would this donation mean for my quality of life? Could I have another baby post-donation?”
Brent knew that I was going through with this process, but he wanted to wait a little–he had some concerns, namely that my girls were so little and we wanted to have more kids. I also was the first person to offer and he thought other donors may be in his pipeline. I filled out all the paperwork, kept researching, talked to other donors, and waited. About a year later, Brent was still searching for a donor and asked me if I was still interested. Of course, I was! We began the official process and matched. The donation was scheduled for June 14, 2013, at Northwestern Hospital in Chicago.
I felt well-prepared for the surgery. In addition to all of the information I learned from the hospital, doctors, nurses and support staff, I was in a good place, physically, to take on the demands of a donation. I’ve been a runner my whole life. Marathons are my favorite distance and there are few things I love more than a long, hard run. I also practice yoga daily and became a certified instructor to share my yoga love with others. I was fit heading into donation and wasn’t too concerned with being able to resume the activities I love.
Our donation/transplant surgery went well. In the middle of the night after surgery, Brent took the long walk to my room to talk. I had planned to walk down to see him in the morning and couldn’t believe he was up and walking before I was! I was discharged and went home the next day, and Brent the day after. The first few days after surgery, I was so bloated from all of the gas that was pumped into my abdomen but I found relief by walking up and down my street as much as I could. Plus, that activity was good for my mental health! Eventually, I worked up to around the block and then the neighborhood, and celebrated 6 weeks post-donation with a run.
The biggest challenge for me post-donation was experiencing fatigue. I was exhausted all the time. Part of the fatigue was resuming my lifestyle–being mom to two kids aged 5 and 2, and returning to work as a part-time special education teacher. I kept up with my running and yoga, but also napped often and went to bed pretty early. It took me close to six months to truly feel like myself again. My incision had healed from a surgery standpoint, but my body also developed quite a bit of adhesions and scar tissue. My incision area cramped, with feelings similar to a Charley Horse, with many activities, such as pulling, lifting, and even just randomly. I was frustrated, but doctor after doctor told me that these cramps would decrease over time, and I should keep up my activity level.
At my one-year post-op visit, I was cleared to try to get pregnant. My post-donation pregnancy was uneventful from a one-kidney standpoint. I was referred to a Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist, and my regular OB kept a much closer watch on me. I didn’t mind the more frequent checkups because it meant more chances to hear my baby’s heartbeat! I gave birth to a healthy baby girl in June of 2015, two years post-donation.
Unfortunately, my frustrating core issues continued, but now compounded by diastasis recti and other non-kidney donation related injuries. I kept up with a gentle yoga practice and walking. In the fall of 2019, I started working with a personal trainer. We have spent a lot of time focusing on deep core bracing and reducing my scar tissue. My program also includes exercises to correct muscle imbalances, and I’m finally strong enough to barbell squat and deadlift. I’m getting closer to my goal of being able to squat my bodyweight.
After a year of strength training, I’m happy to say that I rarely have any cramping at my incision area! My diastasis recti has closed and my core is stronger than ever. This past spring, I was able to access crow pose, which I haven’t been able to do since before the surgery! I am able to keep up with my girls without worrying that my core will randomly cramp up. I don’t love weight lifting as much as I do running, but it’s growing on me and building muscle has greatly improved my quality of life.
If I can sum up my experience, please know that I have NEVER regretted donating my kidney to Brent. Not once. Seeing him living life has been so rewarding. I get to be part of his journey–watching him be an incredibly involved dad to four, celebrating Thanksgivings and birthdays together, being witness to his passion for photography–all memories that would not have happened unless he received my kidney. My “fuzzy why” has been reason enough for me–and maybe a few others. I’ve helped two other people work through the process as they thought about living organ donation. I’m happy to be an example of what living organ donation looks like in everyday life, especially if that can help change minds or calm fears.