My name is Cristina Fontana, and I am a non-directed/altruistic living kidney donor. Donating my kidney to a stranger has been one of the most amazing and rewarding experiences in my entire life.
I was born and raised in South America- Caracas, Venezuela. I live in Zionsville, Indiana.
My father was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma when I was 9 years old, and he passed away when I was 14 years old. I wanted to save my dad’s life by donating a kidney to him, but age would not allow me to. His illness and death forever changed my life. My mother passed away 15 years ago and during her sick time, she underwent dialysis for 4 months. I hoped to be able to give my mother one of my kidneys, but she was not a transplant candidate.
Nursing is a second degree for me. My first degree is in Radiation Therapy in honor of my father. I worked in pediatric nursing for many years and while taking care of one of my diabetic patients I felt the pull in my heart, once again to donate a kidney. This unfulfilled calling to help my parents had never left me.
I decided to investigate donating a kidney to a stranger and read many books. I thoroughly educated myself and attended a class offered by a local hospital. The idea of giving life to someone ignited my soul. Working in oncology for so many years and now donating a kidney would mean that all the pain experienced through the loss of my parents was meant to be somehow, so I could pay it forward someday to someone else. Doing one act of kindness like this would have a huge ripple effect far beyond what I would be able to imagine. I was so excited to start the process. I did not know if I would be ruled out, but I had certainty in my heart that everything would be ok.
The idea of calling the transplant center dwelled in my mind and heart for many months before I acted upon it. I often wondered if my active lifestyle would have to change after donation. I love walking, hiking, water skiing, swimming, running, scuba diving, yoga, and pilates. I thought often about the impact surgery would have on my life, my ability to continue exercising, and my performance, but the worry did not stop me.
Many months went by, and an initial match was found. Due to unforeseen circumstances, my initial surgery had to be canceled and I waited patiently for another match and another surgery date. Finally, a few days before Christmas 2017 a second match was found.
I have always been fascinated by the many medical benefits of yoga and decided to obtain my yoga teacher certificate in 2015. Yoga was very important in the many months leading to surgery and my breathwork without a doubt helped me recover faster. About a year before surgery I became particularly interested in hot yoga/pilates and the many benefits it brings to the body. I waited 3 months after surgery before I practiced again in the heat, but to this day it is part of my regular weekly routine.
I was offered a job as a transplant nurse -living kidney donor coordinator, 6 months after my kidney donation in the same center where I donated my kidney. I am honored to work alongside the staff that helped me through my donation process. I am privileged to help educate, care for, and encourage other donors to pursue living kidney donation every single day. It is such an honor to be a part of this KDA group as a donor as well as a transplant nurse.
Since my donation, I have completed so many wonderful hikes. Machu-Picchu 2018, Rainbow Mountain 2018, Grand Canyon 2019, Yellowstone 2020, Waimea Canyon- Hawaii 2021, Zion 2022, and Mount Kilimanjaro 2022. I was honored to have been chosen to join the current group of kidney donor athletes that hiked Kilimanjaro this year, but after sharing the news with my family and seeing how much they also wanted to do this with me, I chose to do the hike with my family instead. I was still able to meet many of the KDA Kili members in Africa and hear from them firsthand what an amazing journey awaited me. I summited just 10 days after them and with pride held the same banner twice on top of a mountain that many people with 2 kidneys do not attempt to hike.
I knew going into surgery that I was going to be ok, and that I would live a healthy, active happy life with one kidney. I feel healthier now and I am more active now than pre-donation. By sharing my story I hope to tell the world NOT to be scared to do something bold and crazy that your heart truly desires, it will bring blessings to your life and the life of others.
What I can say for sure, is that I would do it all over again if I could. All of it. I do not share my story with many people at all, nor with my patients. Since the Kilimanjaro hike, however, my story has been public in many, many places. For anyone on the fence about donation, I want you to know that there is no greater joy than to give someone the gift of life while living; it is a feeling almost impossible to put into words. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions about the donation process. Transplant has shown me that love has no boundaries, and truly how easy it is to love!