On May 5, 2019, my only child died in a tragic accident at home. At 14 years old, he was
ecstatic that he had grown slightly taller than his dad and was close to finishing eighth grade.
After all, he had plans. Just a week prior, he had asked if we could go to the lake every day after
school ended for the summer. He was nervously excited to start high school, and after
co-piloting his cousin’s 4-seater Cessna, he wanted to be a commercial cargo pilot. Four years
after his death, I still struggle to describe the horrific grief and despair of child loss. Words fail.
In 2017, I lost 82 pounds by limiting portion sizes and taking kickboxing lessons. Despite being
over 40 and never having played sports or been athletic, the transformation was incredible.
After my son died, I continued to exercise for my mental and emotional health. It was my outlet
and escape. I was regularly running 5-10k distances for fun and for sport and began seeking
something new and different to try.
I walked into a Crossfit gym not knowing a single person there, or so I thought. I was nervous
and the place looked intimidating. I soon found a familiar face – my son’s favorite eighth grade
teacher! That gave me the confidence to keep showing up. My strength and skills improved over
the next 2 years when I started having thoughts about donating an organ.
Organ donation was something I learned about years prior in nursing school but put into the
back of my mind as I was busy with starting a second career as a nurse and raising my young
son. I worked with chronic renal failure patients and saw firsthand their struggles with declining
health, strict diet and long hours of dialysis. I’m sure seeing their struggles is, in part, my
motivation for wanting to donate. I felt blessed to be in good health and wanted to share that
blessing with someone in need. But above all those reasons, I felt called by God to donate in
honor and memory of my son. I can’t really describe it any other way.
The donor evaluation process started with a phone call to the newly opened transplant center at
Prisma Health in Greenville, South Carolina. I spoke to a nurse transplant coordinator who
guided me throughout the entire process. There were several evaluations to complete along
with numerous medical and lab tests. The donor evaluation process took several months which
is understandable. I very much appreciated that a team of professionals was looking out for my
best interests in terms of my current and future physical, mental, emotional and financial health.
I am the transplant center’s first altruistic living donor. Upon receiving approval to be a donor, I
requested a surgery date of May 10, 2022, so I would associate and celebrate my gift of life in
early May rather than mourn the anniversary of my son’s death and the emptiness of Mother’s
Despite being an altruistic donor, I had the opportunity to meet my kidney recipient and his wife
the day before our surgeries. I deliberated meeting my kidney recipient. I did not choose to
donate for recognition, considering it truly as a no-strings-attached gift. But after much
consideration, curiosity won, and we met and continue to keep in touch. My kidney recipient
never fails to convey a heartfelt ‘thank you for saving my life’ which is met by an awkwardly
simple ‘you’re welcome.’
My recovery after kidney donation took quite some effort. From the moment I woke up from
surgery, I knew something was ‘off.’ Aside from the expected pain from surgery and the
discomfort of a swollen abdomen, both of which subsided in about a week, I felt anxious,
unusually fatigued, nauseated and unsettled. Although right after surgery I was up and walking
the hospital corridors, those feelings of extreme fatigue and nausea lingered for weeks even
resulting in a couple of unplanned hospital admissions for dehydration. I had multiple tests run
to rule out various conditions and all tests returned normal. Six weeks after donation, I returned
to work for half days, then full days a couple of weeks thereafter.
Nausea and fatigue continued to delay my recovery. I focused my energy reserves on work
which left very little energy for any physical activity. I wondered and worried if I would ever feel
back to my pre-donation normal self again. I cautiously returned to my CrossFit and home gyms
and was not surprised by my low exercise tolerance and endurance. I also found that I needed
several days of recovery after a single workout.
Two to three months after donation, finally, the unexplained fatigue and nausea had gradually
improved and I began to feel better. I slowly resumed weightlifting at home and found my max
lifts to be at least 30 percent lower than pre-donation. I worked with a physical therapist friend
who crafted a plan for me to regain strength and stability. Soon, I was not only reaching
pre-donation weights on my lifts, but I was hitting PRs. I was elated after months of feeling
crummy! This was the boost I needed to earnestly start improving my metabolic conditioning.
I found out quickly that running, even short distances, was difficult. So I took a step back and
started again as a beginner. I ran 200 meters at a time. Then 400, then 800. I was progressing!
I chose a few Crossfit benchmark workouts and repeated them every couple of months. I saw
improvement! That improvement motivates me to keep going and I allow myself to rest when
One year after kidney donation, I’m back to Rx-ing most every CrossFit workout, continuing to
PR on my lifts, and have added both traditional and legless rope climbing to my list of fitness
skills. I still notice a decrease in my endurance but I’m okay with that. I can say that I saved a
life, which, to me, is more important. I have many goals set for myself as I approach my 50th
birthday next year and I look forward to putting in the work to make them happen. I am grateful
to have the support of my Crossfit community and for the gifts of strength and resiliency.