Meet Kidney Donor Athlete, Susie!

In July of 2019, a message came to a family message board. My husband’s Aunt Roma is in desperate need of a kidney and are looking for people to take the survey to see if they qualify. I logged-in that night. 

I knew, like deep down knew, if I started the process, I was going to be her donor. That didn’t make sense, since my husband’s family is GINORMOUS (he’s one of 16 kids) so there is no shortage of family members but I KNEW.

I immediately started running again. I had a 16-month-old and was still struggling to lose baby number 5 baby weight. I was FIT but I was worried about the BMI requirements so I started adding more cardio in just in case. Working out has been something I’ve done all my life. From little league to high school and college sports, I have always stayed active. Rock climbing to CrossFit, Zumba to Yoga, I try to be a well-rounded athlete. After feeling like I was finally starting to get back in the groove after my most recent baby, the thought of having a surgery with another recovery time was scary, however, there wasn’t really a question in my mind.  

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Baby E and I working out pre-surgery. 

My husband’s Aunt Roma let us live with her when we were first married and couldn’t find housing that was affordable. She walked me through being a new mother and helped us get on our feet the first couple years. My daughter carries her middle name and I love her dearly. So I proceeded with the donation process and then found out that she had put a stop to it because she was worried about a young mother donating. I went and talked her through my convictions and, honestly, my prayer that I was supposed to do this. She finally agreed and we set a date in early February 2020. 

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Lots of hikes with the kids before the big day.

The timing of it all was amazing. Her dialysis had completely failed and they told her she was very lucky and would not have made it much longer. COVID restrictions put the first hurdle in the way of recovery. I was determined to walk as much as possible. My whole family joined in taking mom on walks. I adjusted my mindset and thought that while I was unable to go into a gym at least I would not be tempted to overdo it too soon. I walked and walked a lot. 

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Kids taking mom on walks.

We graduated to stairs and step-ups and so on. My surgery was not quite typical because I had the right-side kidney removed. Everything that I had researched did not talk about recovering in that way. It was different than what was expected but I researched a lot of people that had an abdominoplasty and followed their recovery. Overall, I was very surprised that there was so little information out there until I found Kidney Donor Athletes. I wish I had that resource sooner. 

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First time seeing the scars.

Immediately started walking just a little bit at a time. 

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Would walk to see Aunt Roma who was on the opposite end of the unit.

One thing I worried about was the statistics that kidney donors ended up gaining weight. I wanted to make sure that I was doing my part to stay active so I followed a very balanced macro diet post-surgery and while everyone was gaining the “COVID 20”, I lost 30 pounds. I was slow to do anything requiring too much core. My surgeon, upon hearing the numbers of my deadlift, said that I may never see those numbers again (I think that is the one time I cried). However, seven months post-surgery I was back in that range. I did lots of hiking, jogging, paddle-boarding, and volleyball before delving into weight training again. 

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Getting my traps back.

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Two weeks post-op I went for a very small outdoor “hike”.

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I feel better than ever. I don’t feel like I restrict anything movement-wise and I am back 100% just under a year post-op. There have been hurdles but the blessings far outweigh those temporary irritations. Our Aunt is doing so well and she says every time she sees me run by her house, her heart is so grateful that I am okay and that it was not detrimental to my active lifestyle.  

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7.5-mile trail run with friends. 

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! After this crazy year, we had a friend point out to me that when someone says, “what did you do in 2020?”, “DONATED a kidney” is a pretty epic response. 🙂 

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