I donated a kidney… and you can too

I was sitting on the bed in our master bedroom reading the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle in December 2017, when I read about a woman in Ft. Lauderdale, FL who needed a kidney. I instantly thought:

“I wonder if that could be me.”

Fifteen years earlier my cousin Ann received a kidney from her best friend in Omaha, so I knew firsthand what a gift like this could mean for a family. Maybe this was my chance to do the same for another person, for another family.

The best medical hope for these patients is a living kidney donor

March is National Kidney Month, set aside to raise awareness of the 37 million people in the U.S. with chronic kidney disease. Move than 93,000 people are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant; thirteen will die every day waiting.

The best medical hope for these patients is a living kidney donor. Last year there were 19,184 kidney donors in the U.S. Nearly 70% (13,214) were deceased; the other 5,970 were living donors like me.

Martha Gershun is a nonprofit consultant and writer living in Fairway, KS with her husband Don Goldman. Her most recent book, Kidney to Share (Cornell University Press, 2021), with co-author John Lantos, MD, details her experience donating a kidney at the Mayo Clinic to a woman she read about in the newspaper.

Medically, kidney donation is a lot easier than people think

Medically, kidney donation is a lot easier than people think. There are protections for living donors built into every step. I was evaluated for physical, mental, and psycho-social fitness. I was told repeatedly that I could back out at any time, and the confidentiality of my decision would be protected.

People have surgery all the time. And, as surgeries go, this one is pretty straight-forward. I was up walking the same day; I left the hospital after two nights; I never needed the oxycontin prescribed for me; and I was back traveling and walking 3-4 miles/day within a month.

Logistically, this was harder than I expected

Logistically, this was harder than I expected. Getting approved is complicated, coordinating schedules takes patience, and donors need to be able to take time away from their life and work for testing, surgery, and recovery. Their caregiver has to be able to do the same. Not everyone is in a position to do that.

All medical and hospital expenses for living donors are covered by their recipients’ health insurance. But the burden of out-of-pocket expenses such as travel and child care, as well as lost wages due to missed work, are usually borne by the donor. A few insurers cover some of these costs and some government and nonprofit programs have been established to help, but most donors receive no help at all. In my case, my recipient offered to reimburse us for our travel expenses, and we accepted. I was retired from paid work, but my husband used 16 days of accrued Paid Time Off to support the project.

Only 15% of potential living donors proceed all the way to transplantation

Our medical and governmental systems need to do a much better of job of reducing the financial and logistic barriers to living organ donation so that more people can successfully save the lives of family members, friends, even strangers.

It’s been three years since my kidney donation, and I’m healthier than ever.

Sometimes I think I received more than I gave in this grand adventure. Getting to know Deb and her family, learning about the life-saving world of organ transplantation, and becoming an advocate for living organ donation have enriched my life in countless ways. Deb says she is grateful. But I am grateful, too.

I look forward to the day when we acknowledge the life-saving contributions of living organ donors and remove unnecessary barriers to make it possible for more people to donate.


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