In 2008, I went to the movies with a girlfriend and saw the movie The Bucket List. In the film, Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) was terminally ill with cancer and wrote out a list of things he wanted to do before he “kicked the bucket”. A few days later I made my own list and have been slowly checking things off. I am proud of a few items checked off. A few years ago, I went to review Carter Chambers’s list. His #2 on the list: “Help a complete stranger for the common good.” What on earth does that mean? How can this be something to check off as a life changing experience??
Fast forward to April 20, 2020, four weeks into the Covid-19 stay at home orders, I was watching the TV news. A story came up about a man who needed a kidney transplant and he stated he feared for his life because of the cancellation of surgeries and medical procedures. He stated that he may die not due to Covid-19, but due to kidney failure. As I watched and listened, I heard my voice say out loud, “I could donate my kidney.” It was a bit of a spiritual moment, then hearing God whisper in my ear, “Yes Alice, yes you can.”
I am a 56 years old, relatively fit for my age, single woman who is not currently dating (how does one date during a pandemic??). My two adult children are on their own. I don’t even own a dog or cat that needs to be cared for. I have a great job with enough sick days and my body has proven it heals rather well after surgery. There really was not a reason for me not to donate. I know, I know…. You are still focusing back on the God thing. We all have heard about the many people in the Bible who had the God experience. Well, you think what you want. I think I heard God.
The next day I called Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles to get information on the Living Kidney Transplant Program and started the evaluation process. The evaluation process was extensive and took much longer than I expected. There is a complete psychological evaluation and extensive medical tests as they want to make sure you are mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually fit. The months of April, May, June and July were filled with lots of phone calls, lab tests, forwarding medical records, Zoom meetings and waiting. On August 11, 2020, I was approved to donate.
I am an Adapted Physical Education Specialist. In layman’s terms, I am the PE teacher for children with special needs. I received my degree in Physical Education and I have been an athlete my entire life. I best describe my athleticism as, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” I can do just about anything athletically, I am just very mediocre. Prior to donation, I was fit for a 56-year-old. I crossed trained 3-5 times a week doing boot camp, running, swimming, and Stand Up Paddle Boarding. I also enjoy golf, hiking and had a side hustle as a trainer at the boot camp I attended. The Bucket List I created in 2008 has helped me check off running the New York City Marathon, climbing the Half Dome in Yosemite, completing a few Spartan races, completing a 2-mile open water swim, and I learning how to snow board and surf a long board.
Once Covid-19 hit, my workouts were greatly affected, as they were for the rest of the world, and I was limited to runs, my own home HIIT workouts with the few dumbbells that I owned, and occasional surfing sessions. I did have the attitude of “Training for Donation” the way a runner trains for a marathon. I kept to a workout schedule and focused on my nutrition and sleeping. I wanted to be as fit as I could going into donation and I did the best I could with the Covid-19 limitations.
I was matched on December 23, 2020 and donated on January 19th, 2021. I was a Non-Direct Donor. I went into surgery happy, eager, and my heart full of love. I left the hospital after 2 days, feeling pretty good, and grateful for the care from the transplant team at Cedars Sinai.
The first week post-donation was rough, limited to walks around the block or to the corner and back to the house. My body was tired, I was winded, but I was informed that this was to be expected. Then, each week I was able to add mileage to my walks and by the forth week, I was walking 4 miles. At week 6, my surgeon said I could add a slow jog to my walks. It was at this time that my body felt better, my distended stomach had flattened, and my incisions were healing nicely. It was at week 8 post-donation that I was given the “go ahead” to do anything I pleased. The first thing I did was hit the Pacific Ocean and do some paddling. I was rewarded with three pods of dolphins swimming around me during a 3 hour paddle session!
I am 6 months post donation and I feel I am more fit than ever. I have lost 8 pounds and 4% body fat due to the self inflicted change of diet. I have chosen to work with a Nutritionist to help me with my food choices now that I have only one kidney and I eat plant-based as much as possible but will have chicken or fish 1-2 times a week. My cardio is coming back and I am feeling strong. The only evidence that I donated a kidney is a scar on my bikini line and I tend to get thirsty if I have not been drinking my water.
I do feel very fortunate to have had such an easy recovery. I believe that is due to being mentally and emotionally ready for what would happen to my body after donation. I had all my questions answered by the wonderful people within the Kidney Donor Athletes Support Group. I had answers to questions I didn’t even ask. There were no surprises, no hurdles, no set-backs. I knew I would be tired, I would be limited, I would need to rest, and I gave myself permission to do all of that without guilt. The eight weeks of healing was my time to slow down, to be able to meditate on the donation, and just be still. To be honest, I enjoyed every single minute of it!
Many people will ask me how I am feeling and do I feel different? I tell them I feel physically the same, yet I am spiritually different. I feel closer to God, a deeper love in my heart, with a feeling of peace and happiness that I did not know prior to donation. Yes, I am a different person now. I try to find the words to express my feelings and I just can’t wrap my brain around those feelings. I am a better person, with a better appreciation for life around me.
And that Bucket List? I got to check off Carter Chamber’s #2 on his list. I helped a complete stranger for the common good by donating life. I did not know it was on my list, but it’s been the best item on the list.