My Story Thus Far

An ongoing story, Wally is donating his kidney, he's kindly invited us to follow his progress and let me tell you, this process is worth following.  We'll share the good news as it happens and any disappointments along the way.  These are real stories, happing right now.  If you haven't donated a kidney, or had the desire, this story may be encouraging & perhaps it will speak to you in a special way. We hope it does. #DonateLife #LivingDonor

Wally and his two pups

In June 2015, I listened to a Freakonomics Radio podcast describing Alvin Roth’s Nobel Prize-winning work in allocating scarce resources, such as kidneys.  It planted a seed; I’ve donated more than 80 pints of blood and had my gallbladder removed without any adverse consequences, so I’m used to giving up regenerating or unnecessary parts of my body.  The seed didn’t germinate, however, until February 2016.  That’s when I heard the follow-up podcast where Ned Brooks described how the initial podcast had inspired him to become an altruistic donor.  The lightbulb clicked on: if he can give a kidney, so can I.  I reached out to Ned.  He patiently answered my questions and encouraged me to proceed.   

I researched websites such asDonor to Donor, National Kidney Registry, andNational Kidney Foundation.  Ned suggested I work with whichever hospital near me in Chicago had the most experience with kidney transplants.  Accordingly, I reached out to Hospital A in May 2016.  They put me through the usual battery of tests, and in August they confirmed I was healthy enough to donate.   I told them I wanted to be part of a chain of at least three donations; that way, even if my direct recipient had problems, I would know I had helped others as well.

But then I waited.  And waited.  Hospital A told me that my blood type (A +) and my insistence on contributing to a chain of at least three donations were making a match difficult.  In December, I asked them to confirm they were not only looking for matches internally, but also through their UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) connections.  

In February 2017, I contacted Hospital B, which is affiliated with The National Kidney Registry.  They accepted most of my tests from Hospital A but asked for a few updates or additional tests.   They were more enthusiastic and empathetic, perhaps because they wanted to raise their profile in the organ donation community.  However, in April, they reluctantly rejected me as a potential donor, based on a combination of my age (66), borderline high blood pressure (130/80) and my single mini-stroke seven years ago.  I attributed this to the fact that they did not have as much experience in kidney transplants as Hospital A and did not want to risk anything going wrong.

I had now spent a year trying to give away a kidney and had nothing to show for it (other than lots of free testing from two hospitals confirming I am healthy).  Knowing that 100,000 people are on the waiting list for a kidney, I was disappointed and surprised I was unable to reduce that backlog by even one.  But I was also comforted by the lengths both hospitals went to, to make sure my donation would not jeopardize my own health.  The both take the Hippocratic Oath (“First do no harm”) very seriously. 

A month later, Hospital A told me they finally had a potential chain set up for me.  After another set of blood tests confirmed compatibility with my prospective recipient, we’ve scheduled the surgery for July 27.  By definition, chains require complex coordination among patients and doctors at multiple hospitals around the country, so further delays are possible.  But I’m optimistic that my extra kidney will soon be immeasurably improving the quality of life for my recipient and his or her family.  And that will make the wait worthwhile.  

Chicago Park - Wally's Story