My name is Victoria Threadgould and in February 2022, my left kidney went from Austin, TX to New York City, where it was transplanted into someone I didn’t know!
My kidney journey started in January 2021 while I was hiking with my husband in a Texas State Park. I said to him: “I want to use my health and fitness to help people. I’m thinking about donating a kidney.” He was a bit puzzled as we don’t know anyone with chronic kidney disease or anyone on dialysis. After listening to a Freakonomics podcast several years ago, I knew many people had kidney failure and their best chance for survival was a transplant. I knew the wait list was incredibly long, and people die every year waiting on the transplant list.
I value health and fitness – we run, ride our bikes, and I practice and teach Pilates. We participate in local races – and even win some too! I take care of myself – love eating kale salads and getting 8 hours of sleep a night! My question to myself was: How can I use my health and body to help others?
The answer: The National Kidney Registry (NKR). I registered on the NKR site in the spring, did a lot of research, and even spoke to a living kidney donor who mentioned the Kidney Donor Athlete Group. This got me thinking: If people can live with one kidney and be athletes, I could do that too!
By not being linked to a specific kidney recipient, I was able to set my own timeline. This worked out well as I’d gotten a place as a charity runner for the Chicago Marathon in October (one of the hardest things I’ve ever done). I trained throughout the Texas summer – not pleasant – and raised money for a cancer nonprofit. I also wanted to race in cyclocross in the fall.
In November, the Ascension Seton Abdominal Transplant Center opened. I gave them a call to express my interest in becoming a living kidney donor. This then kick-started the whole physical and mental medical process/evaluation. At the end of 2021, the Abdominal Transplant Center approved me to be a living kidney donor.
Between January 2022 and my surgery date (Feb 24), knowing I’d have to take some time off in March, I wanted to make the most of being active. I ran a half marathon in January, practiced Pilates, rode countless hours on Trainer Road/Zwift, and had weekly horse riding lessons. I was averaging 10-12 hours of activity a week. I then became a hermit the week before my surgery, fearful of catching COVID-19 and not being able to donate.
My alarm went off on Feb 24th at 4am. Similar to a race day, bright and early, I was anxious and excited. We arrived at Dell Seton Medical Center at 5am, and just before 6am I was being wheeled down the corridor where everyone clapped and cheered. I got to ring the living donor bell before entering the OR. Whether it was the early start or the sedative I received, I don’t remember anything else until I woke up around 9.40am.
The day after my surgery (Friday), the nurse had me up and walking around at 6am. I did slow and steady laps around the 4th floor, with my husband supporting me as I shuffled along the corridor in my slippers and dressing gown. I had the usual discomfort/bloating from the gas in my stomach, plus the pain at the sites of my incisions when I had to cough. My husband bought me tea each morning and I even had a visit from the Yeti – the Ascension Seton therapy dog! On Saturday, I was ready to have a shower and put on clothes. Upon discharge, the Transplant team and 4th floor nurses presented me with a Donate Life flag.
The following two weeks at home were quite uncomfortable, mainly from the bloating and gas – like I’d eaten too much TexMex food! I was prescribed opioids when I was discharged from the hospital but managed to just take Tylenol as I recovered at home. I took a week off from teaching Pilates but continued my desk job at home. I slept for a solid 8 hours every night – the first week alone in the spare room so I wasn’t disturbed by my cats jumping on my stomach!
I walked for 20-30 mins every day around the neighborhood. The gas in my body and the feeling of indigestion prevented me from going far, or fast. I enjoyed doing some puzzles, and reading, as well as crocheting kidneys for the transplant team.
At my two-week checkup (on World Kidney Day, March 10th), my surgeon prescribed me some steroid cream as I’d developed an itchy rash on the left side of my abdomen. This turned out to be a reaction to the internal sutures that were beginning to dissolve. I was relieved to hear this news as I thought we had bed bugs! My surgeon was happy with my recovery and healing. She allowed me to try some gentle indoor cycling. Her main advice was to listen to my body. I happily pedaled away on my bike while watching Netflix. The timing was ideal as the second season of Bridgerton was released towards the end of March!
It wasn’t until week four that I felt comfortable enough to try running. I started out walking and then jogging for a bit, followed by a bit more walking. I was slow but tried to keep moving. Pilates was the last activity for me to get back into. I was in no rush to do core work but felt humbled at just how weak my abdomen was in comparison to my pre-surgery days. As a Pilates instructor, I knew all the modifications to keep things within my range.
At the end of June, I relocated to Northern Colorado. I have been riding my bike around the trails and ran the Fort Collins Firekracker 5k over the Independence Day weekend – even winning my age group! I found a Pilates studio and continue my 3x week practice. I have yet to get back on a horse but look forward to finding a new barn in CO.
In May-June, prior to the big move across states, I was averaging 10-11 hours of activity. In the fall, I have signed up for a couple of half marathons (Windsor, CO, and Louisville, KY). No doubt I’ll do a few cyclocross races later in the year as my husband is eager to join the local biking community in CO.
I heard from my recipient who is doing well in New York. Her mother also donated her kidney to a recipient in Baltimore! It’s been wonderful to exchange emails and some photos. We hope to meet up at some point in the future. If it wasn’t for the scarring on my abdomen, and my new “kidney friend” I’ve made in NYC, I wouldn’t think I only have one kidney! I hope my story inspires others to learn more about becoming a living kidney donor.