Meet Kidney Donor Athlete, Greg!

My name is Greg Bunn and on August 5, 2021, I donated my kidney altruistically to a recipient that I have never met and did not know any of their information. At the time of this writing, the recipient has not provided their information and is choosing to remain anonymous. My journey from start to finish took almost exactly a year.

There was no one big watershed moment where I knew I wanted to donate a kidney. The idea was first sparked while listening to an NPR podcast in which an altruistic kidney donor (who produced a very popular Vox article regarding the subject that inspired so many other altruistic donors-Dylan Matthews) was featured regarding the topic of morality. That podcast was the first time I had considered kidney donation as something I might be interested in. I revisited the idea later that fall and decided to fill out an online questionnaire through the National Kidney Registry to begin the process formally. The rest of the process came quickly and I was all-in to accomplish this experience.  

I was fortunate enough to have a coworker who donated to a family friend around six years prior. She was able to provide me support throughout the process, especially before I told my wife and family. I was lucky to have a supportive wife and family once I told them what I was thinking. My wife is a social worker, so she immediately wanted to help me through and be my advocate. This was especially helpful post-donation in the hospital when I had trouble expressing my needs to the nurses! My wife also provided me with support in understanding why donation is needed, as her job at the time dealt directly with clients who were on dialysis. I have never known anyone personally to witness dialysis or known the struggles of living in kidney failure, so she was able to ground me in that sense.  

I began the initial testing in November and then the major testing and committee meeting in January of 2021. I was approved to donate, however, my wife took on a new job and we decided it would be best for me to postpone the donation until she was established in her job so she could build up PTO to help me post-donation. I decided to postpone until the end of Summer and was added to the NKR in July.

In the meantime, my wife and I found out we were expecting our first child, a baby boy with a due date of February 11, 2022. Concerns lingered over whether this was still something I should be doing, especially since the NKR’s Voucher Program did not allow me to put my future child(ren) on the voucher list. My wife and I decided, along with the guidance of the social workers at the donation hospital, UPMC Harrisburg, PA, that in the unlikely event of our child being born with kidney problems, we would be probably to find someone else with the same generous spirit given my story or altruistic donation. For now, we just hope Karma is on our side! 

Prior to donation, I was a casual but avid runner, bicyclist, and triathlete. I have completed three marathons, several half marathons, two half Ironmans, and several 100-mile bike rides. Covid-19 hampered a lot of my training and races, however, the last race I completed was the Harrisburg “Halfity-Half” race, which was a back-to-back 6.55-mile race on a Saturday and a 13.1-mile race on Sunday. I was able to set a personal best in the Half Marathon portion with a time of 1:36:26 (7:22/mile). My goal is to come back and PR the course again with one kidney. 

Recovery, for me, has been much more difficult than I anticipated. I had back surgery in 2018 and I was able to run about a month afterward, then was back in shape within a few more weeks. The recovery from my kidney donation has been much more difficult. I have days where I can run and days where my stomach hurts or I am too fatigued to run. I have been able to get on the bike for about 45 minutes to an hour at a time and have felt good. I am still hesitant to sign up for any races. Partly because the season is ending and partly because I haven’t been able to consistently train for anything. I remain confident that I will bounce back better over the winter and am looking forward to running a spring or summer race.  

I would like to add that I did not have any physical complications from my surgery but I have developed more anxiety than normal. The anxiety stems from a fear of complications, primarily hernias, to anxiety over the probability of never meeting the recipient and knowing their story. I have focused a lot of my time on improving the anxiety and have been working closely with my team through counseling and medication.

I think that this aspect of recovery should be highlighted as it has been a hindrance to my training and getting back into shape. I constantly run through a cycle of feeling good enough to exercise, then overdoing it, feeling pain, thinking I have a hernia, and then stopping training until the pain subsides and my anxiety calms down. I am now nearly three months post-op and I have been getting more consistent with my training and my anxiety has calmed down. 

Despite all of this, I would donate my other kidney if I could. This was an incredibly rewarding experience for me and I look forward to a future where I am able to advocate for donation and mentor future donors in their journeys, especially athletes. 

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