| Dialysis | Kidney disease | Patient stories | Transplant

Instincts and Impact: The Decision to Donate a Kidney

April 17, 2024, 8:37am EDT

Morgan Reid (L) and Kellye Miller (R)

Kellye Miller has always followed her instinct. As a fourth-year college student, she gave up a physics scholarship to pursue communications at a new school–a choice that would change her life in multiple ways. This path switch led to a career Kellye loves, introduced her to her closest friend, and inspired her to become a living kidney donor.

Meeting Morgan

On Kellye's first day at her new school, a student approached and introduced herself. 

"Morgan saw me waiting for a class and asked if I wanted to hang out," said Kellye. "We immediately clicked. After that, we spent all our time on campus together."

Their friendship continued to grow, yet Morgan never wanted to go out with Kellye on weekends or nights. 

"My feelings were hurt and I was confused," said Kellye. "When I finally asked, Morgan told me she was on peritoneal dialysis for twelve to thirteen hours every night. She had been dealing with kidney failure for years."

Morgan began explaining kidney failure, but Kellye surprised her.

"I worked with a local transplant center on a research grant. My goal was to find out the best way to disseminate information on transplantation," Kellye said. "I understood the statistics of kidney transplantation but I'd never met anyone affected by kidney failure."

Right there and then, an idea took hold of Kellye's mind–she could donate a kidney to Morgan. 

Learn more about kidney failure

The Path to Living Donation

Morgan and Kellye back to back after donation

Trusting her gut again, Kellye asked Morgan if she had any possible donors.

"It's a touchy question. Some don't have a network of people to ask," Kellye said. "Living and deceased kidney donation is also under-discussed in communities of color due to mistrust in the healthcare system. There are many fears surrounding organ donation."

Having worked closely with transplantation, Kellye understood the system better than most. She knew she could live a long, healthy life with one kidney. 

"I told Morgan I wanted to donate a kidney to her," Kellye said. "But Morgan is a giver, always giving rather than taking. She refused, saying she couldn't ask that of me."

While the refusal stung, Kellye understood Morgan's hesitation. She asked a second time a few months later, but Morgan said no again.

"Morgan is one of those rare people who brings joy to everyone around her. She is a breath of fresh air," Kellye said. "Towards the end of the school year, I could see her light dimming. Dialysis, health issues, and doctor's appointments were getting to her."

Kellye told Morgan that the offer stood if she ever changed her mind. 

"I may not have been a match but I wanted the opportunity to try. This time she gave me her transplant center's phone number," said Kellye. "I immediately started the living kidney donation process."

Kellye learned she was an excellent donor candidate and matched Morgan. She was ecstatic, but her parents were not. 

"They were scared. Every surgery has risks. They didn't want me to put myself at risk," Kellye said. "I was upset with their reaction. They raised me to be the type of person who would volunteer to donate a kidney. I couldn't understand why they were against it."

Kellye called her older brother, who calmed her down. He encouraged her to look at this from their parent's perspective and educate them.

"I shared everything I knew about transplantation with my mom. I took her to a doctor's appointment so she could ask questions," Kellye said. "The process involves much more than me being a match–the team wouldn't take my kidney if they thought it would harm me in the long run."

With a better understanding of kidney donation, Kellye's parents’ fears were alleviated. In the end, they supported Kellye’s decision.

Interested in living kidney donation? Take our free course 'Becoming a Living Donor' to learn more.

Giving the Gift of Life 

Morgan and Kellye Smiling together

The transplant surgery took place on January 9th, 2007. It was a success! 

Read this story from Morgan's perspective

"I was in pain but was already walking around the next day. Morgan was in a room next to me. It was so nice to be able to see each other," Kellye said. "I went home after three days. Morgan's recovery took a bit longer but she had a lot of family and friends who kept her company."

Kellye's recovery went smoothly until she accidentally tore an internal stitch.

"A few weeks later, I woke up in the middle of the night. I stood to go to the bathroom, forgetting I had to move carefully. Suddenly my abdomen was on fire," Kellye said. "Popping the stitch was incredibly painful but there was nothing to be done since the stitch would have dissolved on its own."

Once healed, Kellye continued living her life to the fullest. She became a lawyer, traveled the world, and ran half-marathons. 

Free from dialysis, Morgan joined in on the activities she missed with her friends. She went on to have a family and became the National Kidney Foundation's Transplant Policy & Strategy Director, helping bring the gift of life to more people in need.

"Morgan is impacting real change. She's a champion for people with kidney disease and kidney donors. That is the real story. It's not that I donated a kidney. It's Morgan, who continues to make the lives of everyone around her better,” Kellye said. "There are so many waiting for a kidney. I hope to inspire more people to consider kidney donation. Morgan is not the only one who should have the gift of continuing her life and doing amazing things."

Want to join Morgan on her mission to make kidney transplants more accessible? Become a Voices for Kidney Health advocate.

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