I anonymously donated my left kidney to a stranger! AMA :~) (Reposted w/ mod approval)
Last December, I joined the approximately 400 Americans who anonymously donate a kidney to a total stranger every year.
Donating isn’t as hard as you think it would be; in December 2020, I reached out to the National Kidney Registry about donating, and they connected me with the fine folks at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York Presbyterian.
I had a few video consultations with them to better understand the process, spoke to two prior donors (including my mom’s friend who was also an altruistic donor) and went in for a day of testing in March 2021 to make sure I was in good health and of sound mind. The tests were non-invasive. The hardest part was that I had to collect my urine for a full 24 hours beforehand and then carry a jug of urine on the subway for 45 minutes (but knowing the state of NYC subways, there is a decent chance that I wasn’t the only person with a jug of urine that day).
After receiving pre-clearance, I was put on their hold list until I was able to line up time off from work and my parents’ schedules who would take care of me after the surgery. I received some additional testing at home and had a short pre-op before the big day.
On December 7th, I went to Weill Cornell at 5AM, was put under at 7AM and woke up at 11AM with one less internal organ, and the good humor to tell the attendant nurse, “You took my kidney?! I asked you to fix my knee,” which he had the good grace to laugh about politely before giving me the strongest pain killer I have ever received in my life.
I stayed at the hospital for two nights and was discharged on the third evening evening. I felt well enough to go to a holiday party the following weekend and returned to work full time about a week and a half after my surgery.
The long-term effects are pretty mild. I have a slightly elevated risk of kidney failure, and there is a slight increase in pregnancy complications for donors. I can’t take Advil/Ibuprofen for the rest of my life, which is kinda annoying but it’s manageable. Donors have the same life expectancy as non-donors, and the surgery itself is actually safer than a c-section. My remaining kidney actually grows in size and strength, so I ~only~ lose 20-30% of my kidney function. And, if I ever need a replacement. I’m immediately put at the top of the list (as are my immediate family members!).
It’s been about a month and a half since the surgery and I’m basically back to normal. I’m back to running 3X per week. I have to be careful about lifting heavy objects for a few more weeks (kinda funny b/c I’m a 6 foot tall man lifting granny weights at the gym), but I’ll be back to my pre-surgery regimen within the next 2-4 weeks.
This definitely isn’t for everyone, and at some level, I’m privileged to have done this. I’m financially very secure, have a job with a generous time off policy and parents who could take care of me while I recover (even if my mom told me that was “incredibly pissed” that I was doing this five minutes before I went to the operating room). But also the federal government has recently rolled out a generous program to supplement lost wages and reimburse childcare/travel expenses, so it’s getting easier.
40,000 Americans die of kidney failure annually and there are actually thousands of Americans who want to donate to loved ones every year who can’t because their kidneys aren’t a close enough genetic match. So, oftentimes those would-be donors agree to donate to another stranger if an “altruistic donor” (e.g. me) opts to donate to their loved one, so each altruistic donor can actually facilitate multiple additional donations.
I guess what it comes down to for me, is that if someone asked me if I would go on bedrest for less than a week and suffer some abdominal pain to save someone’s life, it feels like a no-brainer. And, most people probably don’t think like that, but if you are at all interested in donating or just about the process, I would love to talk to you.
Proof submitted to IAMA mods b/c it has confidential medical information and reposting today w/ approval from them. Apologies to all who asked questions yesterday.
Edit #1: Please don't Reddit Gold/Silver this lol. If this post inspires you to give away money, I would encourage you to donate to GiveWell which distributes your money to evidence-proven high-impact interventions in the developing world which save lives and dramatically transform people's quality of life.