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April 27th, 2023

“It was terrifying but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.”

That’s what I usually tell people when they find out that I am a kidney donor and then they inevitably ask me “what was that like?”

My answer never changes either. And you know what? I really do mean it. If I had another kidney to spare, I would give that one away too. Not because I’m an altruistic, Mother Teresa-type who thrives on giving. Not even close. It’s because I got to see first hand the profound effect that live organ donation has on the lives of those who need it and I was forever changed that day. 

November 11, 2008. That’s “Kidney Day” for me and my younger sister-recipient, 4 years my junior. But that’s not where my journey began.  

You see, unlike many live donors, I had many years to think about, ponder, and make the very weighty decision to the question: “Will you donate your kidney?”

My younger sister, Amy Jo was born with only one functioning kidney. One kidney had never developed and the other had a major defect or dysfunction… in other words a multisyllabic word that I would never be able to repeat back to you if you paid me. In short, the doctors had to go in when she was only 5 years old, “clean out” the kidney that she did have and then send her on her way and wait until that kidney no longer functioned. 

She did fine for a few years and then one day they saw the tell-tale signs of regression and she started dialysis her Junior year of High School. They don’t exactly teach how to remove excess toxins from one’s body in Home Ec. 

At the time (1999), I was only 20 years old and wasn’t at the required donation age of 21. My eldest sister Michele then became her donor and although they were a 0 out of 6 tissue match, a live donor is better, by far. So they took Chelly’s kidney, pumped Amy Jo full of prednisone and other nasty chemicals that forced her body to accept this new foreign organ and off she went.

But they always knew. 

Somehow I always knew too.

One day she would need another kidney. 

And when that time came, would I be brave enough to donate to her?

On the outskirts of that question I think most people would probably be like me and quickly say “oh sure… you ever need anything, you call me.” That futuristic “one day” notion seemed so far away when I said I would donate that the heaviness of what I just agreed to never hit me until that fateful day in 2008. 

Earlier that year I had gotten THE call.

The one that went something like “Hey the doctor’s said I need a new kidney… blah blah… will you?”

Before I knew it, they were First Class shipping 12 vials of my blood from Boston, where I lived to Salt Lake City, where my sister was. Then it was all a blur.

“You’re a 6 out of 6 match”

“How soon can you get here?”

“We need to schedule you for 500 tests that include a CAT scan, MRI, glucose, and even a comprehensive mental wellness exam.”

In a matter of weeks I had packed up my life, sold my car, and moved everything I had 3,000 miles to start the process of one of the biggest things I will ever do in my life. 

And you know what?

Amongst all the trepidation, anxiety, pain, healing… nothing and I truly mean nothing compares to the moment when our doctor came into my and my sister’s shared hospital room and announced that in the first 12 hours, my amazing little kidney cleaned out 11 liters of toxic fluid from Amy’s body.

I still get the chills when I think about it. 

Now that I am on the other side of all of that fear and duress I can only see the good that comes from this amazing thing I did. To give another human a new lease on life is a pleasure few will get to have. 

The thing is, not everyone is going to be able to donate their kidney. But there are still so many ways one can help further the cause. That’s why what companies like Global Transplant Solutions are doing is so very important. Each time we have a chance to donate our time and resources, the recipients win! 

And because of advancements in transplantation, there are even more ways to get involved. For instance, Global Transplant Solutions produces the Servators™ to preserve organs during their journey from donor to recipient across the country. And with the amazing ability to have multiple donors that solution becomes paramount. How cool is that?!

Ok, so you aren’t comfortable going under the knife, that’s ok. At the very least, I always recommend that you look at your local transplantation organization and find specific ways you can help businesses like GTS further the spread of hope around to the 106,000 people currently on the national donor waitlist. 

There’s so much you can do.