By Chelsey Larson, NKF Minnesota Board Member
When I think about college there is one saying that perfectly captures my thoughts: What a time to be alive. Growing up people tell you that college will be the best time of your life. I had no clue how right they would be. Though these were the glory days for me, an eye-opening experience during my junior year at the University of Minnesota made me realize that things were not so glorious for everyone.
At the beginning of my junior year I wasn’t thinking too much about what life would look like after college. I was living with six of my best friends, and we were having a blast. When one of my roommates, Abby, decided to go to London for spring semester and she had to scramble to find someone to sublease. At the last minute she found a girl on Craigslist. We’ve all heard the Craigslist horror stories! Before meeting our new roommate, I thought she would either be 1) my new best friend, 2) a Craigslist killer, or 3) the recipient of my kidney. Wait, what?!
In early January our new roommate Ellen moved in. It wasn’t long before we found out that our new roommate was a very busy college student. Just how busy she was, most people can’t quite fathom. One night one of my roommates read me something Ellen had posted on Facebook. Ellen had shared that her kidney had failed and she was on dialysis. Three days a week, for four hours at a time, a machine was saving her life. Ellen had already been on dialysis for 2 years, starting on the day after her 21st birthday. She had to drop out of school, quit her job, and was basically too sick to leave the house. Meanwhile, I was being a typical 21-year-old, going to class, living with my girlfriends, and basically doing whatever I wanted. Ellen couldn’t go do any of it. If she missed a dialysis appointment, she could miss ever graduating from college, getting married, having a family. Having to go to dialysis is no way to “live”; it is simply a way to avoid dying.
My heart exploded. I knew in that very moment, I would be a match for Ellen and I would give her my kidney. I know that sounds absolutely crazy, especially because the odds of being a match to a complete stranger are so slim, but I just knew. I knew that this Craigslist sub-leaser moved into Abby’s room for this very reason. I knew because of a brave family member.
Two years before I ever met Ellen or even thought about organ donation my amazing Aunt Tina donated her kidney to a stranger from her church. I vividly remember the day that my mom told me Tina was going to do this. My heart sank and I began feeling extremely nervous and fearful for Tina. I had never heard of living kidney donation, and I wrongly assumed it was a very dangerous thing. I watched my aunt have a successful surgery, so inspired by her in every way.
After 3 months of testing that included a survey, a cheek swab, a few blood tests, and a final appointment to see if I was healthy enough to donate, I got the news that I was a perfect match for Ellen. Although I already knew this in my heart, it was one of the happiest days of my life. I immediately called my parents and my best friend to tell them the good news. I had a hard time telling anyone else because I wasn’t sure what their reaction was going to be. Would they be happy for me? Would they think I was nuts? In my eyes, it wasn't a selfess act, it was just the right thing to do.
In May 2015, Ellen and I were rolled into surgery. The surgery went great for both Ellen and I. To that point she had had roughly 28 surgeries in her life so she was pretty much a pro. Ellen has been doing great since the transplant. In fact, her new kidney is working better than the normal! Her family has been nothing but amazing to me, and since we were in rooms next to each other in the hospital, I got plenty of hugs and “Thank Yous”!
Today, my life is completely back to normal, and for that I am grateful. I play sports, I travel, I go out with friends, and I even moved across the country. What makes my life even better is the fact that someone else’s life is back to normal. Ellen can now be a normal 24-year-old, and I can’t help but smile when I think about the fact that she is going back to school to be a nurse.
More than 120,000 people in the United States are currently on the waiting list for a lifesaving organ transplant. On average, 22 people die every day from the lack of available organs. I try to do the right thing when faced with challenges in life. If my aunt had never been so courageous to show me the way, I’m not positive I would be writing this now. I want to be the light for others that my aunt was for me. Having the opportunity to drastically improve another’s life is an opportunity that shouldn’t be ignored. I was an average human that took the opportunity when I was called. I don’t consider myself selfless, courageous, or brave. I consider myself as someone who did the right thing. I used to be very shy when talking about this subject, but.today, the topic usually flows into daily conversations: conversations with my Uber drivers, coworkers, friends, and strangers I will never see again. I have “Donate Life” license plates, and I have a tattoo with an organ donation ribbon on it. I believe that these conversations with these friends and strangers aren’t meaningless, and someday they will meet someone that needs a life-saving transplant. I just hope they will remember our conversation, and think twice about donating. If I can do it, anyone can.