In case you haven't heard, it's World Kidney Day, a time to spread awareness of kidney disease and treatment options like transplants. It's a special day for me, because I've seen firsthand the ways a kidney transplant can change a person's life -- I was able to donate my left kidney to my husband Bryan in 2012.
Whenever someone heard I was approved as his donor, their reaction was usually, "Great!" Then, in a lower voice, "What's it going to do to you?"
My standard response was that I wouldn't be able to kickbox after donating, but that it wasn't an issue since I'm so uncoordinated. And no more Ibuprofen, which can be toxic to kidneys.
Kidney donors can have children after donating, excel in sports, drink alcohol (a question my fun-loving friends seemed to ask a lot), and live a long, healthy life. In fact, a study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine showed we tend to live as long -- or longer -- than the general population (though of course, if you're healthy enough to donate a kidney, you're healthier than the general population).
But there's still a lot of fear surrounding the idea of donating a kidney. So last year I founded a nonprofit called Rock 1 Kidney to provide a website where kidney donors can share stories of ways they are "rocking one kidney" since donating. Already a diverse group of kidney donors have shared inspirational stories of ways they're living life to the fullest -- people from different races and religions and economic backgrounds united by a willingness to give a part of themselves to save another. Now they're competing and gardening and teaching and traveling and feeling lucky to have been able to give in such a unique way to their parents, children, siblings, co-workers, friends.
Then there are the "altruistic donors" who give to strangers. It was a no-brainer for me to donate to Bryan -- he's the love of my life. But who decides to give an internal organ to someone they've never met? Altruistic donors are people like Ken, who donated to a stranger at the age of 59 and started a donor chain that saved nine lives (including a three-year-old girl's). He works at a ski resort and "can still work circles" around his younger employees. And there's Todd, who completed a rim-to-rim hike of the Grand Canyon less than three months after donating -- he reconnected with a friend whose wife had been transformed by a transplant and knew he "had to do it." Michelle, a dialysis tech who had seen the effects of kidney disease, donated to a stranger who is now "like family." In the 13 years since donating to a stranger-turned-friend, Harold has spoken to over 10,000 teens about organ donation, and says he has embraced his life's guiding theme of "Follow the joy."
It is a privilege to receive such personal accounts, as well as to read donor stories shared by other nonprofits and media outlets. Even the Grinch would be moved by the high school gym teacher who donated to her student, the National Guard medic who donated to his colleague, the father who started the "Nick Damon Kidney Chain" -- which saved 10 lives -- to channel his grief after the death of his son.
So what will donating a kidney do to you? It's true that most likely, you're in for a week or two of fairly exquisite pain. But many of us would do it again in a heartbeat. Kidney donor Cindi even wrote to Rock 1 Kidney that she wishes she could "grow more kidneys" to save more lives.
Personally, I still hike (or snowshoe) every day with my dog, dance to live music, toast with friends. But being a kidney donor has also strengthened my relationship with my partner, filled me with gratitude to see his vitality renewed, and given us an extra holiday to celebrate -- how many couples get a wedding anniversary and a "transplantiversary?" And though the news can seem full of cynicism and pain, every day I get to hear stories of hope, courage and love.
So to the kidney donors out there, I thank you for making the world a better place. Happy World Kidney Day -- and rock on!