Blog reboot #3 – one-kidney marathon

I (Hilary Caws-Elwitt, Northampton MA) donated a kidney to a stranger on December 9th, 2020, one year and one day after I filled out the first interest form at the National Kidney Registry and many years after I started thinking about it as something I might do. I was inspired by the many donors who have gone before, who almost universally say it’s one of the best things they’ve ever done. At not quite 3 weeks post-surgery I am feeling almost 100% and have started running again, and I agree with all those other donors that I would do it again in a heartbeat if I could. But instead I can be an advocate. Kidney Donor Athletes became one of my go-to sites during the long journey to donation and made it clear that donors can do whatever they want physically including marathons and ultras; I’m planning another marathon, ideally in fall 2021, which will be my fourth overall but my first with one kidney. I’m rebooting this blog to document that next marathon, but more specifically to encourage recreational marathoners to consider kidney donation. I think it’s a natural fit for many reasons.

Marathoners are well-suited to donation:

  • We tend to be healthy, so are more likely to be approved as donors
  • Just like running a marathon, donating a kidney is something that most regular people consider a little crazy or even “impossible” and we’ve dealt with those reactions
  • We usually have learned to really listen to our bodies
  • We have the experience of a long-drawn-out planning and preparing process
  • We’ve built physical and mental stamina
  • We can deal with physical discomfort

Motivations to run and to donate can be similar:

  • If one of the reasons you chose to run a marathon was to challenge yourself, to see what you could handle, to tackle a huge project and a huge adventure… you might find that kidney donation scratches those same itches.
  • If you love the camaraderie, community, and feeling of belonging to a tribe of runners, you’ll find something similar in the tight-knight and supportive donor community.
  • If you wanted to savor the feeling of “I am a marathoner,” the identity that nothing can take away – becoming a kidney donor is like that in spades.

And best of all, it directly helps another human being in a way that very few people have the opportunity to do. The US kidney waitlist is over 90,000. There are not enough deceased donor kidneys to meet the need, and living kidneys have better outcomes anyway. Thousands of people die every year waiting for a kidney.

Every single one of [the kidney donors] was so proud of what they did. They all felt, Here is something grand that I did. Here is something unambiguously good, and I can be proud of this for the rest of my life, and whatever else I do and however else I fail as a person, this is something that no one can take away from me. And that’s a big thing in a person’s life. And there aren’t that many chances to do something like that. —Larissa McFarquar, interviewed by Charles Duhigg

I wrote up most of the kidney donation journey on a private forum, since I didn’t want to go public until I was successfully through the process. I’ve adapted and reposted, backdated to when the events actually happened – from just before talking to my doctor to the first follow-up after surgery , and I’ll continue with training for the marathon (hoping for Hartford). It’s super-detailed because that’s what I would have wanted to read as a prospective donor (and I tend to be wordy…) Feel free to contact me with any questions or leave a comment.

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