Editor’s Note: April is National Donate Life Month—a month of recognition established to help raise awareness about donation, encourage Americans to register as organ, eye, and tissue donors, and to honor those that have saved lives through the gift of donation.
On September 10, 2014, my hospital care team told me they had never seen anyone so happy to be undergoing surgery. I was there to donate one of my kidneys to a child who desperately needed it, and it truly was one of the happiest days of my life. A year later, fully recovered, back to normal, and feeling as strong and healthy as ever, I ran the Boston Marathon.
Having spent my entire career in the healthcare industry, I have seen far too many people—ranging from infants to the elderly—unable to live life to its fullest potential due to illness, disease, or injury. This bothers me tremendously, and it should be a given that every human being deserves the opportunity to have a healthy, high quality of life.
I’ve been fortunate in many ways in my own life; in my family, in my career, and in my community involvement. I’m a proud single mom with an extended network of loved ones and cherished friends. I’m an entrepreneur and CEO whose company develops products that improve the lives of women. And I uplifted the health and life of a precious 4-year old boy by choosing to become a live organ donor.
What is Living Organ Donation?
Before I get into my story, in recognition of National Donate Life Month, I want to share a few facts that may surprise you about living organ donation.
- According to Donate Life America, more than 100,000 people are on the national organ transplant waiting list. More than 85% of those patients are in need of a kidney, which is one of the organs and tissues that can be transplanted from a living donor.
- Living organ donation offers a much-needed choice for some transplant candidates, reducing their time on the waiting list and leading to better long-term outcomes for the recipient.
- Living donors don’t have to be related to their recipients—in fact, 1 in 4 living donors are not biologically related to the recipient. And living donors typically go on to live fully functioning, normal, and healthy lives following donation. The risks are relatively small.
- Despite the tremendous need for healthy organs and tissues, each year, fewer than 6,000 people participate in living organ donation, and sadly 13 people die every day awaiting donated kidneys.
- Studies show that kidney donors tend to have a higher quality of life following donation. This is likely due to an increased sense of purpose and self-esteem.
- You can register your decision to donate organs, eyes, and tissues (after death) through the National Donate Life Registry here. Beginning this year, the registry will also offer the opportunity to register your interest in being a living kidney donor.
How I Made the Decision
I first met the Mayer family, including their precious new baby boy, Jake, in 2010. Angie Mayer, Jake’s mom, was a fellow soccer mom with whom I felt a fast kinship. Jake was unfortunately diagnosed with Eagle-Barrett Syndrome.
As a result of his illness, Jake’s tiny kidneys could not function correctly—and his parents were initially told that he was not expected to live. Plans were made for hospice, and clergy were called to the hospital to provide last rites.
Miraculously, God had different plans for the Mayer family and for Jake. Though he went through a series of surgeries, treatments, and failed procedures (including a previous donation of a kidney by his dad, which sadly failed), Jake made it to 4 years old, despite all the odds.
When he became healthy enough to be placed back on the national organ donor list that year, I spotted the news on Facebook. The moment I saw the post, I knew I would be the match—so much so that I quickly told my dear friend I would not be able to run the Chicago marathon later that year (I had been training for months). In June of that year, my test results came back: I was a match for kidney donation for Jake.
The Living Organ Donation Process
It was the day after Jake turned 4 that we went through the donation process together at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville. From the preparation phase, through the procedure and recovery period, I never once experienced fear. I knew in my heart that it was part of my life’s purpose to provide this miracle for Jake. And I felt secure and relaxed knowing that the transplant team is as concerned about the donor’s health, well-being, and post-surgery recovery as they are the recipient. My team put me through a series of in-depth medical and psychological tests to ensure I was healthy both physically and mentally for what lay ahead. And they cared for me lovingly during the three days it took to recover in-hospital following the procedure.
I felt secure and relaxed knowing that the transplant team is as concerned about the donor’s health, well-being and post-surgery recovery as they are the recipient.
Jake is now a thriving 11 year-old boy who has more than my kidney—he has my heart.
His mom, Angie, also likes to joke about Jake’s love for Mexican food, dark chocolate, and ginger bread, all of which are particular favorites of mine as well. Giving the gift of life was as much a gift to me as it was a gift for my recipient.
You can courageously and selflessly share your own gift by registering your decision to donate organs and tissues at the National Donate Life Registry here. You never know, someone in need may be out there praying for someone just like you.