In February 2019, a family member was diagnosed with kidney failure and admitted to the hospital. Having two friends who have donated kidneys before I knew transplant was an option, and immediately began doing research. While I wondered what donating a kidney would entail, I didn’t really care; I wasn’t researching the what, I was researching how quickly can this happen.
I came across the KDA page on Instagram and instantly breathed a sigh of relief. As a runner and ultrarunner, I didn’t have to worry about life after donation being a handicap, I could put all those fears out of my head.
Preliminary testing revealed I wasn’t a direct match, but I was still a perfect candidate to donate a kidney. By September 2019, I was officially approved to donate and we were entered into the Canadian Blood Services paired donation registry database to be matched with other pairs of donors & recipients in the same situation.
I left for Arizona to run across the Grand Canyon and I just knew we would be matched. Standing in a hotel room in Arizona staring at my best friend, smiling as it rang, it was hard taking that phone call saying we weren’t. I made peace with the circumstances knowing that when a match was meant for us it would work out. Our next chance to be matched was in January.
The first of January came and went, and nothing happened. Every day I waited for my phone to ring. Then it happened; we were matched. I tried not to get my hopes up that we would be after being so disappointed last time around, but here it was, it was happening. Some bloodwork had to be updated to confirm the DNA matches and then it would be time to book our surgery. Three weeks later I got a call saying our donor chain had collapsed, and it was like a punch to the stomach. Delivering the news to my family was hard. My coordinator responsible for delivering this news to me had always described this process as being full of ups and downs, and I was really coming to understand what that meant.
By this time, the situation seemed impossible and I was worried all the time that the match and surgery weren’t going to come soon enough. I forgot what it felt like not to have a lump in my throat. Then, enter COVID and the program went offline. Canadian Blood Services wouldn’t be querying the database and matching us again. We really started to lose hope.
In September the program restarted and we were matched again, and pending updated testing, we could expect surgery in November. We nervously laughed it off this time but still made plans. Not long after came the news that our transplant hospital had been hit with a large covid outbreak and that the surgery would be too risky at this time. Once again, it slipped away. Surgery got pushed to possibly December. Waiting for the phone to ring, by now I hated it when my phone rang for three more weeks waiting for an update. Our match was still viable and we were hoping to book our surgeries for the last week of January. With a specific week chosen, I felt like this was finally going to happen. I was still in disbelief until the morning of January 27th when I had an IV put in my arm.
Laying there in pre-surgery in the bed beside my brother it would have been easy to worry about a lot of things, but I spent every second trying to make him laugh and show him that I wasn’t worried about a thing. I remember making jokes as I was wheeled into the OR. Secretly my biggest fear about surgery was that I would cry, and it would make him feel bad. Sliding onto the table in the OR and saying “hi” is the last thing I remember, if I was told I was being put under I don’t remember, but I’m glad it happened that way.
Waking up in recovery isn’t something I could describe here, it was confusing to be in so much pain, my surgery had lasted 5 hours and I couldn’t put together the strength to speak or the words to ask for help. I just pointed to the spots that hurt and closed my eyes so tight and hoped to escape it all. This went on for probably 2 or 3 hours. Slipping in and out of this semi-conscious state where life was completely out of my control. Knowing that the surgery was over was the biggest relief, and I knew although it was tough right now, I had faith that every day would get better.
Just as predicted, each day got better. I found out right after surgery I had been accepted onto the Altra Running RED Team. I took it as a sign from the universe I was going to make a full recovery. I went home three days after surgery and was out walking with my dog a few days after that. I stayed home for a week then went back to work to try to regain some sense of purpose to my days. The following week I developed pain so severe that I couldn’t breathe or stand up. I ended up in the hospital with nerve damage and required medication for the course of three months.
The medication didn’t seem to help right away, but it did cause several side effects like brain fog, anxiety, and nightmares. I was afraid to sleep, and even more afraid to be awake, it was a confusing period in my life, that I look back on with wonder at how I possibly survived, but somehow, I thrived. Before the surgery, I had bought myself a necklace that had “fearless” inscribed on it because that’s what I thought I had to be to get through the surgery. Truthfully, I was always afraid and the only thing I needed to be was brave. Recovery meant facing those fears, so I got brave. All of the support of my friends and family made me even braver.
And I did recover. My scars healed and each day I walked and hiked and moved my body more. I followed the instructions and listened to my body carefully. Around 10 weeks post-surgery I went for a run, and it felt like the most natural thing I’ve ever done. The nerve pain subsided around 14 weeks. I was back to ultrarunning five months after surgery. It’s different, I’m a bit slower, I need a bit more liquid and get a little panicky about that every now and then, and some extra recovery time.
A year later I’m settled with all of this and I’ve made it to the other side of the pain, uncertainty & stress. With all of that lifted, I have the space the feel something new that I never felt before; a deeper connection to the earth – when I feel my feet hit the Earth I imagine I feel its energy pressing back and propelling me forward. Sometimes I don’t think I’m not imagining it. This is my new dream and I wouldn’t change a thing about how I got here.
At first, I thought of this first-year post-surgery as my comeback, but I’ve known for a long time the old me isn’t coming back. I’ll never be who I was but I can be stronger and wiser. Struggles result in perseverance and reward you with the confidence and resilience you need to move forward living life bravely.
One year later, my kidney function is steadily improving, and so is my confidence as I work up to training for my first 100-mile race. No longer striving to be who I was, I want to be better, more aligned, more connected to what I’m doing, and I hope to be an excellent example of all that a Kidney Donor Athlete can be. I plan to use my voice and experiences to support and inspire future donors.