I donated a kidney anonymously on 7/17/17.
The recipient, who I later met, is Angelica from Orange, CA.
I was driving in my car in the summer of 2016, when I heard an interview on the radio where they shared some of the startling kidney statistics, including the growing number of people on the kidney donation waiting list and the number of people who die each year. It was at that time that I decided to do some research to see what it would take to become an altruistic donor.
For me, a big part of my decision to pursue donation was the fact that I've lost several people in my immediate family, so it was important for me to see if I could help another family avoid going through that, at least for a few more years. My father passed away at the age of 65 after battling a rare blood disorder called Amyloidosis for over five years. My brother passed away at the age of 36 after being in a coma for seven years (he was born with Cerebral Palsy and had repeated seizures, one of which led to him falling into the coma). My mother passed away unexpectedly at the age of 75 from a Thoracic aneurysm.
No one in my family had any kidney problems, but I still saw kidney donation as a way to help out someone else in need. And after doing my research, I better understood the fact that we can live healthy lives with only one kidney, so it seemed selfish of me to essentially be walking around with a spare while so many people are dying waiting for a donation.
I did a bunch of research before making the decision to donate. My primary resource was the National Kidney Foundation website, but I read as much as possible to learn the risks, the benefits, the pre-surgery, the post-op, etc. I called the Kidney Donor Hotline and they linked me up with the local donor program at University California Irvine Medical Center in Orange. They were great, walking me through the entire process from start to finish.
The evaluation process was a lot more involved than I expected it to be, with a lot more trips to the hospital for blood tests, MRI's, CT scans, psychological evaluations, etc. Having to schedule these appointments around work made it difficult and definitely stretched the whole process out over several months. The process spanned about six months, from late 2016 until mid-2017. In March, after completing all the tests, I received my approval to become a donor, then it was about a month before they found a match. Due to my work schedule, I wasn't able to donate immediately, but we were able to schedule the surgery for mid-July after my last day with my company (I ended up selling my company, Jetpack America, in January 2017, then agreed to stay on for six months to assist with transition).
Fortunately for me, I was able to schedule the surgery right after my last day with my company, so I was able to take the rest of the summer off to recover. Most people don't have this luxury obviously. The costs associated with the actual procedure are all covered, but everything else is the responsibility of the donor, from time for tests, gas to and from appointments, parking, missed work, etc. So even though donation is "free" there is still a tremendous cost, which is why I've started to get more involved in the lobbying to change the current rules to allow for compensation for kidney donors. At this point, there is not only no financial incentive for people to donate, but there is a financial disincentive, since all of these ancillary costs are the responsibility of the donor. I feel that if a fair and reasonable compensation model were introduced, the government would save billions of dollars and, more importantly, the kidney waiting list could be eliminated.
Preparing for my surgery involved countless conversations with friends and family. Not surprisingly, there were two camps, those who supported me wholeheartedly and those who vehemently opposed my decision. It definitely shined a light on some peoples' characters. I understand that a lot of people opposed my decision because they had genuine concern for me, but when they couldn't see the benefit to the recipient or understand that the loved ones of the recipient had that same genuine concern on their side, it was a little frustrating. It just truly showed me how selfish most the world truly is. Although I had a lot of people trying to talk me out of my surgery, overall I had a great support system. Once people realized that my mind was made up, they did their best to support me. And once I had the surgery and was on the road to recovery, people began to better understand my decision. Now, it's my goal to show the world that you can live a normal, healthy life as a kidney donor.
Everyone seems to care so much about themselves and their own families, which I understand, but when people tried to make the case that I should save my spare kidney, just in case someone in my family needs it, I tried to explain that someone needed it right now and that person is a loved one to someone else. If everyone had the "pay it forward" mindset, there literally wouldn't be a kidney donation waiting list. Instead, millions of people are walking around with spare kidneys for their own "just in case" situations.
From a recovery standpoint, I was very lucky. After a rough first few days (I definitely underestimated the pain), I healed and recovered quickly. Despite being told 4-6 weeks for recovery, I pushed myself to be on the leading edge of that time-frame by moving around as much as possible, which my doctor encouraged rather than sitting on the couch. I started walking around the block on day five, did a 7.5 mile hike on day 13, started mountain biking around the 3-week mark, and working out at the gym after about a month. I'm still not 100% after a few months, but I'm back to doing pretty much everything I was before my surgery. From talking with other donors, I'm very lucky with the rapid recovery I've had.
The thing that surprised me the most was the reaction I got when people learned why I was at the hospital each time. It wasn't until then that I realized how rare altruistic donations truly are, which is frankly pretty sad. I understand that not everyone is going to be willing to give up an organ for a stranger, but when there are so many people in need and literally millions of people walking around with a spare of something of which so many other are in need, I'd like to think that more people would at least consider donation. I'm hoping that a change to the compensation rules will encourage more people to consider it (sad reality that money is the number one motivator).
I didn't know much about my recipient and, honestly, I wasn't sure how much I really wanted to know. To me, what was important was helping someone out. I wasn't doing it for the recognition and I didn't want the recipient to feel indebted to me in any way, the same way you don't expect to be linked up with the recipient of your blood after you donate.
All I learned before my surgery was that the recipient was a young woman, whose husband was donating to another stranger on her behalf, since he wasn't a match for his wife. It wasn't until after the surgery that we were able to meet.
I got a phone call from the hospital about a week after surgery and they asked if I wanted to meet the recipient, so I agreed to meet her and her husband at the hospital that morning. Before I knew it, I was on my way. The meeting was brief and filled with hugs, but it wasn't until my drive home when my emotions hit me and I cried my eyes out, just being hit with the magnitude of the situation.
Don't be discouraged by those around you who question your decision or try to put negative thoughts into your head. Do your own research, learn the statistics, share the facts with those around you and don't be swayed. Not everyone has the courage to, literally, give of themselves for another, but it truly is the ultimate gift.
In a lot of ways, I want people to know that being a kidney donor has not changed my life at all. I want to show people that you can still lead an awesome, fulfilling life after donating a kidney, since your one kidney can do the job that your two kidneys did before. The same way a car still drives the same, if you give your spare tire to a stranded motorist in need, the human body can function the same after donating a kidney.
From a more emotional standpoint, donating a kidney has definitely changed my life by giving me more perspective. It has helped me shift my focus from inward to outward. I've been very fortunate in my life, so it is now my goal to give back to the world and those around me. If we can all learn to treat others as our family, we'll all be better off. Everyone is a family member to someone and if we take that stance, the world will be a better place. As the saying goes, be the change you want to see in the world.
One other cool part of my story is the kidney donor who shared her advice with me before and after my surgery.
Literally two days before my surgery, I was at a wedding in Santa Barbara with my girlfriend, Carlene, and we learned that one of her friends, Francia, had just donated her kidney to a friend a few weeks before. Although it was a huge secret that she'd even donated, mainly because the person she donated to was her best friend, Selena Gomez, they shared the info with us since I was going to be going into surgery two days later. Carlene reached out to Francia, who was extremely sweet, sharing all kinds of good information about what to expect with the surgery and the first days of recovery, which helped me out quite a bit.
Two weeks after my surgery, Carlene and I went to Francia's birthday in LA, where we got to meet face-to-face for the first time and she, Selena and I all compared scars and shared recovery stories. Very surreal. At that time, the story was still a secret, but it was great to be able to share stories and have that bond.
It's great to see that they're both sharing the story and bringing awareness to the situation. Selena is obviously a massive star, so her ability to raise awareness is pretty unparalleled. Hopefully they continue to be advocates.
Location: Newport Beach, CA