What It’s Like to
Donate a Kidney

in ,

In Short: A Privilege.

Read on Medium
Read Time: 3 minutes

I noticed a fellow soldier I worked with wasn’t feeling well. Eventually the reason was revealed: he had kidney failure and would soon need dialysis. This tough-as-nails combat veteran was still at work every day despite his nausea and fatigue. But no one in his family was compatible. For an unknown reason, it popped in my head that he could have one of my kidneys. I didn’t need my spare. One is plenty.

When I finally approached him, he was hesitant. Recipient acceptance is a stumbling block to kidney donation by a non-relative. He was worried that my health would suffer. I reminded him that I was very healthy, and explained that my parents donated their bodies to science. Donation was normal for my family. After thinking about it quite a while, he finally accepted my offer.

Surgeons working in an operating room.
Photo: AhmadArdity on Pixabay.

Next came lots of testing. First was blood and urine testing to make sure that my kidney was compatible, my health was good, and my blood didn’t have any diseases that could hurt him. I had never been pregnant, so that meant the antibodies that could have formed then would not be a problem.

Next was a complete physical including electrocardiogram, treadmill test, and chest x-ray. After that followed a kidney ultrasound and arteriogram. The surgeons could see all the blood vessels for each kidney and decide which would be better to remove. Finally, we each met independently with the transplant team, including the team’s psychologist, who makes sure you are fully informed and donating willingly. Thankfully, everything checked out, and they approved the transplant. My left kidney would go to a new home.

We had to wait several weeks to fit into their schedule. Then there was one final test, the crossmatch. They simultaneously drew blood from us and quickly mixed it together to see whether his antibodies would attack mine. They did not. The transplant was a “go.”

Finally, the day arrived. I went through the typical pre-op undressing, having an I.V. started, and getting onto the gurney. My operation was a hand-assisted laparoscopic left nephrectomy (kidney removal). They gave me spinal anesthesia and mild general anesthesia. The surgeon made two small abdominal incisions for his scopes, one near my left ribs and one in the left lower abdomen. He made a larger third incision, where his hand could go in, vertically below my belly button. After he clipped the blood vessels, he cut the kidney loose, placed it in a small bag, and pulled it out by hand.

Kidney lying on surgical towel.
A live-donor kidney just before it was implanted in its recipient in 2019. The black spots are sutures. (Photo: CC 4.0 by Rmarlin at Wikimedia Commons.)

Then came a different surgeon’s job: installing my now-former kidney into my co-worker.

Waking up soon after, I was ready to go, but they made me stay in bed for a day. Feeling good, I just caught up on reading magazines. I had a urinary catheter in overnight so that I would stay in bed, and an I.V. for pain medicine, though I didn’t need any.

The next morning they took out the catheter, and I walked straight to the recipient’s room to show him I was fine. I found him eagerly eating breakfast for the first time in months. The nausea was gone already. My kidney, now inside him, was working great and cleansing his blood. We both went home doing well.

This year marks twenty years my kidneys have lived apart. Both are doing just fine, as do the bodies in which they reside. Having the health and opportunity to donate a kidney that gave another person his life back was truly a privilege.

A Donor is remaining anonymous because it’s about the donation, not her. She is a retired soldier who still tries to serve, and is one of the Red Cross’s Heroes for Babies, a small group of donors whose blood can be used for babies and others with a compromised immune system. If you can, donate!

To Tell Your Own WiLt story, see the Submission Guidelines.


Be Eye-to-Eye with a Cougar

Start Martial Arts Training at 50


8 thoughts on “Donate a Kidney”

  1. I often think about the bravery of people who donate body parts they might one day need. I used to think perhaps they were crazy, but a cousin of mine who lived in another part of the country became sick, and a donor was eventually located.

    My cousin was not told the name or location of the donor, but he was grateful for the opportunity to continue living. Several years had passed, and we all figured it had worked out well. After five years, he was thriving. At ten years, his curiosity was peaking, and he learned the location of his donor. When it was revealed, it turned out to be somebody living very close to his parents. On their 50th wedding anniversary, we had a party, and my cousin got up and told his story to everyone and then told us the donor was in the room as his guest. He became the real guest of honor.

    The donor organ worked for many years, but anti-rejection drugs began to fail. However, the procedure added about 20 years to his life, so we are forever grateful for the added time. Few people get a chance like this, because not many people are donors.

    When I asked my doctor about donating my body to science, he told me that I did not have any reusable parts but medical students could use them for practice. I laud any donor who saved a life and wish I could do the same. All the honors to those who can, and do!

    When my father died, he had stipulated that his body be donated to the Stanford Medical School, which was just down the road from where he lived since 1969. The family joke: “Dad finally got in to Stanford!” -rc

  2. I am glad to hear of successful organ transplants.

    I know of a couple of organ transplants that did not go well.

  3. I applaud the sacrifice of all organ donors, it is a wonderful thing to do for someone. However, as a medical corps veteran, my thoughts tended towards career implications of the story. Having a single functioning kidney makes a soldier unqualified for world-wide service. That means she can’t be deployed for combat and will probably get medically discharged. The article says she is retired as of the published date. Active duty soldiers would be unable to donate and remain deployable if I recall correctly.

    • The good news is that because of the advances in surgical techniques and better understanding of the effects of organ donation (or lack of them), donating a kidney does not now make a soldier non-deployable. Having a single remaining well-functioning kidney does not automatically limit a soldier’s service.

      On the other hand, the transplant recipient, if still on active duty at the time of the transplant, would be non-deployable.

      Many active duty service members have been organ donors and have continued their service without any issues. Prior command approval and counseling are required prior to organ donation by anyone on active duty. In general, organ donation by active duty service members is well supported.

  4. Soldier on, Hero! Donating is the deepest communal caring there is, methinks. My remains of a lifetime of medical mystery are going to scientific research and i plan to reincarnate so i can find out what contribution came from that. 😉

  5. Well, dang, I was working on my own story with that title. But this one’s great. Many thanks to “A Donor” for writing it!

    I’ll bet you have a different story to tell — perhaps about that event. -rc

  6. I donated one of my kidneys last year to an unknown recipient. One of the best things I’ve ever done. I haven’t met them, but they are doing really well. 😀


Leave a Comment