Altruistic Kidney Donation: Why I Donated My Kidney to a Stranger
Earlier this year, I donated my kidney to someone with whom I’ve never met.
People often ask me, “Why on earth would you donate your kidney to a stranger?” I often respond with, “Why wouldn’t I?”
I’m the perfect candidate for organ donation. I don’t have kids. I’m not a runner, so I don’t mind taking rest for a couple of weeks. Plus, I have a really understanding and flexible employer.
Learning About Altruistic Kidney Donations
I kept seeing sign after sign stating that so-and-so needs a kidney. And I thought, there’s no reason for me to not help someone else who is in dire need. So I Googled altruistic kidney donations to learn more. It was then that I saw how difficult dialysis can be, and this essentially sealed my decision to do it. Dialysis is the treatment for kidney failure, which removes waste from the body and filters the blood. It can be life saving for some children, but it can also be grueling. I couldn’t imagine how hard it would be for a kid to go through that.
During my Googling, I saw that Cincinnati Children’s has a program that accepts living kidney donations. They will also help families if they want to participate in a paired kidney exchange. This means that if you have someone in mind with whom you want to donate an organ to, but you’re not a match, you can donate to someone else whom might be a match for the person you want to help. I was amazed by this.
I didn’t have anyone in mind, I just knew that I wanted to help. So I reached out to Laura, the living donor coordinator. What followed was a 3-4 month process to fulfill all kinds of testing and counseling to make sure that I was the right fit.
The Testing & Matching Process
This process included a 24-hour urine test, a CT scan of my abdomen, an EKG, stress test, LOTS of blood work, a psychology evaluation, and counseling to make sure I understood the financial considerations. While the recipient’s insurance covers the medical costs, I wouldn’t be able to work for a couple of weeks. I also met with the surgeon who explained the process in detail, and a dietitian who made sure that my nutrition was acceptable. Overall, it took about 3-4 months to complete all of the steps. I’m sure if there was an emergent situation, it could be done sooner. But Laura and the transplant team really worked around my schedule so that it wasn’t too burdensome.
They deemed that my kidney was a good one and identified a patient who was a good match for it. On the day of the procedure, I went into the OR at 7:30 a.m. and was out by 1 p.m. While I didn’t know who my kidney went to, I did hear that the procedure was successful for both of us.
Recovery from Transplant
Recovery was impressively easy. I had some nausea while I was in the hospital and was in a very minor amount of pain. That’s it. I was discharged after three days, was able to drive my car a week after I got home, and was back to work within two weeks. Sure, I slept a lot the first week, but I felt more awake after I stopped taking the pain medication.
As for the implications to my everyday life, there are only three. The first is that I am no longer able to take NSAIDS – only Tylenol for pain relief. With only a single kidney, it’s important to avoid NSAIDS since they can cause an acute kidney injury. The second is that I need to stay hydrated. If I don’t, I’ll get a headache and also dehydration could injure my remaining single kidney. So I just make sure to always have a water bottle with me. The third, and the least impactful to me, is that I have scars – three tiny incisions and one kidney-sized line around my pants line. But I don’t mind. In fact, I kind of like them. They’re a reminder that we’re all capable of doing things that are bigger than ourselves.
If I had another kidney to give, I would do it again. It’s so worth the minor inconvenience to save someone else’s life.