Meet Kidney Donor Athlete, Roni!

I hate that I waited so long to finally write about my kidney donation process but I have been reading more and more about other peoples’ stories and I want to share my experience with others who are considering donation as well. Forgive me if I leave out any details as navigating the journey has been quite blurry, from my mom initially getting sick to our actual transplant surgery 18 months following.

In November of 2017, my mom was experiencing flu-like and pneumonia symptoms until her BP skyrocketed which landed her in our local ER. There were several long days and nights spent in the hospital while doctors were trying to figure out the root of her sickness. Once she was finally diagnosed, she was transferred to Vanderbilt for treatment because they had the resources available to do so. She was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease called “Goodpasture syndrome” which ultimately damages the membrane cells of your lungs and kidneys. Thankfully, we caught the disease before it spread to her lungs but she was in end-stage renal failure by the time doctors discovered what she had.

My mom performed peritoneal dialysis for a year and a half, every single night and some exchanges during the day. Yes, dialysis is quite literally a life-saver but WOW the quality of life that it takes away is so sad to see. She was limited in the activities she could do because she would have to be home and hooked up to the machine at a certain time. Her nightstand was covered by a machine and her closet full of different concentrations of solution for dialysis as well as all of the accessories the machine needed to perform peritoneal dialysis. Can you imagine being hooked up to a machine when you sleep and every time you rolled over the alarm would sound because the tube was kinked? Thankfully she only had to experience that for a year and a half.

Throughout the initial diagnosis and clearing her body of all antibodies, members of my family and close friends were jumping at the opportunity for potential kidney donation. The process is LONG. My oldest sister and I were the first ones to decide we wanted to begin the process for donation, however, only one person could do this at a time. Lauren, my oldest sister, was the first one to begin all of the testing to donate once she found out she was a match. She was at a stage in her life where she had the time and resources to be flexible with surgery and recovery, as we all know this is a surgery that requires major recovery. Unfortunately, some of her lab values were not at the threshold that the donation committee saw as “safe” for donation.

Once my sister was declined, I began my testing process. I had no hesitations to donate, however, I was busy finishing my senior year of undergrad and prepping for grad school where I would work towards earning my Doctoral of Physical Therapy degree beginning in the fall of 2019. I scheduled all of my testing appointments ASAP because I needed to have this surgery as soon as I was able. I was getting ready to move away from home and needed to be somewhat recovered before I moved to a new city and began my graduate school endeavor.

On January 30, 2019, I was told I was a very compatible match for my mom. Further testing was done up until April 15, 2019, my mom’s birthday, when I got the that I was approved to be her donor. What a perfect birthday gift! We booked our surgery as soon as we could but only after we attended our Eric Church concert that we were DYING to go to…we call that, “Our Last Hoorah!” May 28, 2019, is our official surgery date and an anniversary we get to celebrate forever!  

Anyway…how did I get to this donor athlete page? I’m an average joe CrossFitter. I found CrossFit in 2018 when I was a string bean and could barely lift the barbell. I fell in love with my first CrossFit box that became my other home- my other family. I fell in love with the sport and spent as much time in the gym as I could between being in college and working. I began to see little improvements in myself day by day. I was addicted to seeing what consistency with food and exercise whilst being surrounded by an incredible community was doing in my life. My approval for donation was about a year after I found CrossFit. I knew without a doubt that I was going to donate a kidney to my mom. I was happily willing to make whatever changes I needed to in my life as long as I could have my mom there with me! Then, I began to wonder what my life would look like post-transplant…could I still go to the gym daily? Was I going to be limited in what I would be able to do for forever? So, I went down a rabbit hole of searching for others’ personal experiences as a donor athlete. I found this page and I knew all would be okay!  

I wouldn’t say I’m a fearless person. In fact, I’m sure I worry a whole lot more than a normal person. Something was different about this surgery, even though it was my first time having any type of surgery, I really didn’t have any fear or worries. My only concern was, “when can I get back into the gym?” My mom kept asking me if I was scared or had any hesitation, reiterating that I could back out at any moment. I remember telling her, laughing because it was a funny worry: “Mom, quit. The only thing I can think of that gives me a weird feeling is getting wheeled back to the O.R. on a hospital bed all by myself.” I could picture myself in a hospital bed, fully awake, just lying there getting rolled down an empty white hallway to the O.R.

You know how I told you I had the best community at my CrossFit gym? Surprise! It’s 6:00 AM on a Tuesday and many members from my gym joined with our other close friends to make a “Hero” walk, lining the walls of the hallway to my operating room. MAN, CUE THE WATERWORKS. How freaking awesome! I arrived in the O.R. with all my jitters gone, they put the mask on my face and put an IV in my arm to put me under for the surgery. Halfway through my “get her to sleep” countdown, I ripped off my mask and all I could see were blurry faces and hairnets and said, “This s*** burns!!” They said, “I know honey, it’ll go away- keep counting.” Then I woke up in post-op with my aunt next to me. I was shocked…I had fallen asleep and woke up with one kidney!

Everything went smoothly for my mom and I stayed in the hospital for two days and watched my mom race down the hallways with her new kidney before I could even sit at the edge of the bed. My CrossFit people were in and out all day, I got countless texts, Facetime videos, and calls from my people. I couldn’t wait to get back to them.  

I listened to my body and recovery took quite a long time. Although I felt relatively normal after surgery, I knew my body wasn’t able to jump right back to where I was physically before. I moved slow and steadily. Honestly, it was defeating at times. But I kept remembering the amazing gift I had the opportunity to give and how the Lord aligned the timing up perfectly right before I left for graduate school. Now, I am 20 months post-surgery and stronger than I was before. I am also a year and a half out from receiving my DPT!

My best advice for donors would be to 1) hydrate; 2) eat well, and 3) recover well. Donating will open your eyes even more to taking care of yourself and living a healthy life. I was 22 when I donated and knowing I had a lot of life left to live, I wanted to take care of my body even more and protect my remaining kidney. I’m not saying I live a strict lifestyle with no eating out or drinks but I think about all of the life I still have to live and I want to get there the healthiest way possible. If you’re looking for a sign to donate, this is it! Your life will slow down temporarily but you are giving another person their quality of life back. Donating is my proudest accomplishment because I was able to give my mom her life back.  

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