Meet Kidney Donor Athlete, Jeanette!

My name is Jeanette and I was lucky enough to donate my kidney altruistically in August of 2020. The process was around 2 years in the making and involved a lot of research, especially considering my younger age at the time of donation (24 years old). The inspiration I took from all of the amazing athletes featured on Kidney Donor Athletes played a major role in my decision. I was hesitant to share my story but decided to do so in the hopes that this small snapshot into my decision to donate can alleviate the concerns of a potential donor and give them the strength to go forward with donation.  

I have been a runner and a hiker since I can remember and am happiest when out on the trails. I ran my first trail marathon right before High School graduation and ran Division II Cross Country, Indoor Track, and Outdoor track in college on scholarship. I was also part of the U.S. National Jr Snowshoe racing teams and during my time on the team was able to win Jr. Nationals twice and the World Junior Championships once. I was honored to be featured in the “Faces in the Crowd” segment of Sport’s Illustrated for my snowshoeing. 

I am now fulfilling my childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian so my training is a little less intense due to time constraints, but I was able to complete a road marathon and a 50-mile trail ultramarathon so far during my time in veterinary school. Unfortunately, my time as a college athlete destroyed my love for running and I developed a pretty unhealthy relationship with my body and nutrition. I have been working to restore my love for running and exercise and kidney donation and the trail/ultra-running world have played such a major role in that process. Leading up to and after donation it has been easier to feel gratitude for my health, treat my body with the respect it deserves, and focus on what my body can do rather than what it looks like.  

I don’t know if I will ever meet my recipient and at this point don’t know anything beyond their age and gender. My donation team has shared with me that my recipient is doing great and are very happy, and I am in the same boat. The process was not perfect, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. I was unable to have anyone with me in the hospital because of the COVID-19 pandemic but luckily, I was able to be discharged in the afternoon the day after the surgery. I was in quite a bit of pain and did not react well to the anesthesia or pain medication so the first week at home was rough.

I turned a corner after that week (and some wonderful support from my mom) and was able to hike around 7 miles 3.5 weeks post-donation. I started running shortly after this and at this point have felt strong on 3-9 mile runs. I find myself exhausted on some days, but this is expected when you are 6 months out from a pretty major surgery. As a 3rd-year vet student, I was able to complete my own first surgery (a spay on a cat) only 2 months post kidney donation so the residual fatigue is not slowing me down too much! I am looking forward to getting back to water skiing, kayaking, road biking and more as my healing journey continues (and the weather in Wisconsin gets above 0 °F).  

A lot of people place living organ donors on a pedestal and I would be doing a disservice to the process if I did not address this. In my opinion, living organ donors are incredibly lucky and privileged in their ability to donate an organ. I am healthy enough to donate an organ because of both luck and privilege in my access to comprehensive healthcare, mental health support, adequate nutrition, finances and overall support from family and friends. Not everyone has the same resources available to them.

If you are reading this and can’t donate an organ that does not mean you can’t support living organ donation. Spreading the word about organ donation, helping others gain access to adequate nutrition, mental health services, and being supportive of the people in your lives can all, directly and indirectly, help raise awareness of and increase support of organ donation. Unfortunately, healthcare and in some cases the kidney donation process itself is impacted by systemic racism and the oppression of marginalized groups. Donors and non-donors alike can improve the process through equity and justice and make living organ donation an even more beautiful process than it already is.  

Thank you for listening to my story.

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