Donors generally say the experience was positive, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Studies report that between 80 and 97 percent say if they had it to do over, they would still make the decision to donate. Here, two kidney donors share their experiences.
Eight years ago, Helen S saw an article in her local New Jersey newspaper written by a high school teenager whose mother was in desperate need of a new kidney. Touched by the plight of a woman who was going to die unless she received a kidney transplant, Helen responded. “I called my husband and told him I must donate my kidney right away,” she recalls. “After all, I was an O blood type and felt that I was definitely going to be the perfect match. My husband was a bit bewildered but sensed that I was determined to help and agreed to support my decision.”
After speaking with the woman, Helen took the next step and contacted St. Barnabas Hospital in Livingston, New Jersey, a leading center for live kidney transplants where the woman was a patient. “In my mind it would be a quick process with a few lab tests, a solid confirmation of my compatibility with her antigens, and then her pain and suffering would come to an end,” Helen says. “Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.”
The staff at the hospital suggested that Helen take some time to think hard about what she was considering and to contact them in a few months if she was still interested. “From that moment on I was more determined than ever to help, whether it was for the woman or any other person that was suffering,” Helen says.
She signed on for the necessary lab tests and evaluations with doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers. Though she was given the go-ahead to become a donor, she was not a match for the woman she wanted to help. But by now she had learned so much about the procedure, the risks and serious need for living donors, she was set on helping and agreed to become part of a chain of donors arranged by the hospital. “There was a gentleman who had a sister whose kidney did not match his. She was willing to give her kidney to another recipient if I would donate mine to her brother,” Helen recalls.
On a spring day in 2009, donors and recipients met at the hospital and underwent simultaneous surgeries — two healthy kidneys implanted in two needy recipients.
Helen suffered some complications immediately following the surgery, but these were resolved. Within six weeks, she says she felt like herself again. Seven years after her donation her life is healthy and normal.
Helen eventually met everyone involved in the 2009 chain of donations. “We keep in touch and have all gotten together since the surgery,” she says. “They call me their angel for making a non-directed donation.”
Of her experience, Helen says, “It has brought me so much joy! And those family and friends closest to me now share the belief that there is no limit to what good can be done for each other.”
In 2014, Lynn B, a 47-year-old dietitian from Bangor, Maine, donated a kidney to a recipient she did not know. The married mother of two grown children, Lynn learned about becoming a donor from a Facebook post a friend put up about a woman who needed a new kidney.“Until then I didn’t know you could be a live kidney donor, but it got me thinking,” Lynn says. “I stewed about it for a couple of months and didn’t tell my husband or children at first because it sounded kind of crazy, even to me. But I did a lot of research. After several months, I knew it was something I wanted to do.”
Lynn contacted a respected New England transplant center, passed the phone screening and underwent tests. As a non-directed donor, she was able to choose when she wished to have the procedure. Her hospital matched her with a 54-year-old man on dialysis who had suffered from kidney disease since he was 19. Her donation started a chain. The man’s wife was not a match and couldn’t donate to him, but she donated to someone else.
“In terms of how the experience made me feel about myself, I feel that there’s nothing I can’t conquer,” Lynn says. “And I’ve gotten to know this person who’s living a healthier life. I improved his quality of life and maybe gave him a few more years on the planet.”
Of her recovery, Lynn says she was back to 100 percent normal within three months. A long-time runner, she ran a half marathon five months after her surgery and made good time. “There are a few things in my life that I am really proud of — my marriage, having kids, having kids naturally without pain medication, running marathons, and this,” Lynn says. “If I had another kidney, I’d donate it.”