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  • Writer's pictureKirstin


Today is World Kidney Day, and this day has meant nothing to me until this year.

I donated a kidney on November 24, 2020, so I suppose last year’s celebration should have had an impact, but, for me, the donation process was a bit of a blur and falls into that category of events you live through and then look back on and think, “How did I do that?!

And I do not mean it in the sense that others seem to, when they liken donating an organ to some heroic, superhero deed. (While well-intentioned, that rhetoric can prevent people from donating.)

I wonder how I gave up an organ when I can’t even donate blood. I tried once in college. They told me NOT to return because they “didn’t need it that badly,” and I have not attempted it since. (I had a physiological response and required quite a bit of…attention.)

I wonder how the timeline from calling the transplant center to donating was a mere 4 months, especially when I have since learned that it sometimes takes years for others. (Did I mention this process occurred during a pandemic and across state lines?)

It was only after I hit the one-year anniversary that I’ve felt ready to reflect and share the story behind the story. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say the stories behind the stories.

I have long wanted to write a book. I have a couple fiction ideas and a handful of nonfiction topics that interest me. But the kidney donation story may push the other plotlines to the back burner because it is a real doozy!

It’s got blood. Guts. A half-brother I didn’t even know I had. Medical ethics. Heck, regular ethics. Musings on privilege. Divine intervention. And the ghost of my dead father appears in a dream!

I would totally read it.

It’s the book I needed a couple years ago, as very few books on living organ donation exist.

I recently read The Fear Factor: How One Emotion Connects Altruists, Psychopaths, and Everyone In-Between by Abigail Marsh. She explores the extremes of generosity and cruelty people are capable of, with legit psychopathic children providing the data on one side of the equation and “altruistic” kidney donors for the other.

This term, which refers to those who donate a kidney to a stranger (versus a relative) still bothers me, much like “natural” childbirth. Giving birth to a child IS natural. If you mean “drug-free,” say so. Donating an organ IS altruistic. If you mean “non-directed,” say so. Is it an “easier” decision to give your organ to your ailing child than it is to someone you may never meet and about whom you know nothing more than their need for your pee machine? Sure.

But, as Marsh points out in her book, “What makes a kidney donation different…is that the risks and benefits are shared—unequally—between two people. The donor volunteers to take on only medical risks to give the recipient all the medical benefits.

That IS the definition of altruistic.

But I digress.

I wish I had known about living organ donation earlier, and yet, if I had, I might have already given my kidney away before my half-brother needed one. I saw the signs on the side of the road just as you all do: “Kidney needed! Call 555-666-7777!” I didn’t give those pleas a second thought. Surely, they weren’t asking for MINE – can you even DO that???

Yes, actually, you can. You can be fully functioning on one kidney, as the remaining one grows in size to pick up some (not all) of the slack. Today, 22 of my fellow Kidney Donor Athletes are summiting Mount Kilimanjaro to bring awareness to living kidney donation and the EXTRAORDINARY life you can still have after parting with “lefty” (the surgeons prefer the left side, though they leave you with the higher functioning kidney).

The worst part for me – in all honesty – is that I can never take Aleve again, which was my pain reliever of choice. (NSAIDs aren’t great for kidneys; if you donate your liver, no Tylenol for you.)

And with your organ, the recipient has much better odds than they would from a deceased donor. A living donor kidney functions, on average, for 14 years; a kidney from a deceased donor might get you 10. Over 90,000 Americans are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant right now. The average wait is over three years, and 13 people die every day waiting for one.

I knew none of this in the summer of 2020, when my half-brother told me he was about to go on dialysis and had been on the transplant list for 6 months already. My reply?

And the rest is history…that you’ll have to read when the book comes out. ;)

Until then, Happy World Kidney Day.

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2 commentaires

Carol Harris
Carol Harris
10 mars 2022

I very much look forward to reading the book!

19 avr. 2022
En réponse à

So - I just now figured out how to respond, but I also look forward to FINISHING the book. Perhaps you can be a beta-reader!

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