My name is Ashley Zirkle and I donated my right kidney in May 2021. I’d considered donating after coming across an article on my news feed about a woman in need of a kidney transplant due to stage 4 Chronic Kidney Disease. She still had life goals, such as starting a family, and was not much older than myself. I’d barely been 30 when I came across the article, and immediately knew she still had so much life left to live. She’d listed her blood type and the preliminary qualifications necessary for donation in the article along with a link to submit information to begin the kidney donation matching process.
It took me all of 30 seconds to decide if I was going to submit my information. I’ve always felt my life mission was to make a difference in someone’s life. Seeing that I met the blood type qualification, I felt right away, this was a shot to give someone a chance at a potentially better life. I clicked the link and filled out the form.
As I awaited that first jug for collection that would be the first test of many in the matching process, I thought about things like would this change my life? Would I still be able to remain active? Am I really going to do this?
The more I spoke with the team at the Transplant Center at Cleveland Clinic, the more information and data I learned about kidney donation. This was more than enough to answer my questions. My life would change, yes. I’d be down an organ and need to ensure I was taking care of my remaining kidney. For someone who lives relatively healthily, not much had to change in my day to day lifestyle. On top of that, I’d absolutely be able to remain active. In fact, it was encouraged. With this knowledge, I knew if I were a match for the recipient in the article, I’d absolutely do this. Even if I wasn’t a specific match for her, I’d submit my name to the registry to potentially match with someone else in need.
Fast forward 5 months, and I was given the green light as a match for my original intended recipient. We’d been in touch, as I reached out on her social media page to let her know I began testing for the matching process and we started to get to know each other little by little. Approximately, 7 months after clicking that link, I donated my kidney to her and gained a new family member.
I currently live in Washington state. At the time of donation, my daughter was 11 years old. During the matching process, I was informed that having children post-donation would be challenging. I was okay with this because I have no plans for more children. Throughout each year, I cycle between eating vegetarian and consuming animal products. Ultimately, I listen to my body and eat intuitively for its needs depending on my activity level. As an athlete, I run marathons, hike, swim, snowboard, scuba dive, wakeboard, kayak, paddleboard, and play flag football. I’m currently in pursuit of running all 6 World Major Marathons, and love showing to the general public that organ donation does not limit your ability to live a full and active life.
I’m currently just as active, if not more, than I was before donation. In the immediate weeks following the donation surgery, I spent about 2 weeks mostly resting or walking short distances around my house. By week 3, I was slowly walking to the end of my block. In week 4, I was very lightly jogging short distances. From there, I progressed to jogging slightly longer distances about every other day until I felt I could run at my pre-donation pace around the end of week 6. I resumed regular activities after that and even gave cross-fit a try about 3 months after donation.
Physically, I feel better than I did before donating. I now focus on eating healthier, listening to how my body feels, and adjusting my activity levels and food needs accordingly. I also keep mental and emotional health as a priority. Pre-donation, I wasn’t as risk averse as most people – I’d adventure and thrill seek, not necessarily giving thought to precautions. However, in an effort to care for my remaining kidney, I’m slightly more cautious – checking for rocks before cliff diving for example.
I just ran the New York City marathon, and next on my plate is training for the World Transplant Games in Australia in 2023. Beyond that, I’ll pivot to marathon training for the Chicago Marathon. I’m always finding ways to keep myself moving. I can’t wait to see what comes next.