My name is Ashley Ludlow and I donated my left kidney as a non-directed donor starting a paired kidney exchange on December 18, 2013.

I had been considering becoming a donor after interning at local dialysis centers as a soon-to-be Registered Dietitian. I saw firsthand how tough dialysis seemed to be for the patients and how strict the diet was. Seeing people spending several hours a few days a week attached to dialysis machines tugged at my heartstrings.

The idea of donating a kidney stayed in the back of my mind as I began my career and started a family. In early 2013, I ran across a news story about the National Kidney Registry and the paired kidney exchange and I decided that it was time for me to look more into the process to see if I would be a candidate.

At this point in time, I had been exercising about 6 days a week for many years. Five days a week I attended an early morning boot camp exercise program that included the 5 pillars of fitness: muscular strength and stamina, cardio-respiratory and cardiovascular strength and stamina, flexibility, agility, and balance. I also cycled, hiked, backpacked, and ran half and full marathons.

I met with my doctor to discuss donation and to go through the basic lab work and paperwork to be considered as a donor.

I was accepted and approved to be a donor through the Methodist University Hospital Transplant center and was listed in early December of 2013. I received a call a few weeks later that I was a match for someone and that I would be the starting link of an 8-person paired kidney exchange through the National Kidney Registry.

My husband and I ran a half marathon on a Saturday and I donated my kidney the next Wednesday which was December 18th, 2013.

I do believe that my fitness level at age 42 helped with my recovery post-surgery. I went home after two nights in the hospital and started taking short walks every day. I admit that walking felt odd; it felt like my gastrointestinal system and other internal organs were moving around trying to determine where they wanted to settle. It was such an odd feeling.

As a Registered Dietitian and Gerontologist, I was aware that without strength training I could lose muscle mass through both sarcopenia (age-related loss of muscle) and in-activity so I was anxious to get back to my morning boot camp class. At the beginning of January, I was approved to start light weight training, lifting no more than 10 pounds. I avoided doing exercises involving my abdominal muscles such as planks, push-ups, and sit-ups. Though I couldn’t do much, being back at a class I love helped me to know that I would soon be strong enough to fully participate.

Over the weeks I began to heal and get stronger and six weeks later with -permission from the doctor- I was clear to begin running again. It was slow going at first but each day I felt better and better and just four months after donation, my husband and I ran the Louisville half marathon. At the finish line I felt tired but amazing!

When people ask me if I feel different now than I did pre-surgery nine years ago, I tell them that I don’t and I do. I don’t because physically I feel the same. But I do because even though I still don’t know who the recipient of my kidney is, I feel like I am the one who received a gift. Giving my kidney to someone anonymously with no expectation fills my heart with happiness and joy. I don’t need any thank you, nor do I really want it. Just knowing I helped someone’s child or someone’s parent is enough. The giving is a gift to me. I appreciate the world more, I appreciate nature more, and I appreciate my family and friends more. I am thankful for all I have.

Since my donation, I have completed multiple half marathons, two 150-mile bike rides, two full marathons, have backpacked sections of the Appalachian Trail, and at 51 years old, I will be running the St Jude full marathon this December.

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