| Dialysis | Kidney disease | Patient stories | Transplant

The Ultimate Act of Friendship: Donating a Kidney

April 04, 2024, 8:56am EDT

Ben and Susan in the hospital

Ben and Susan met by chance while dropping their children off at kindergarten more than twenty years ago. That was the start of a decades-long friendship between the children and families. 

Neither knew this chance meeting would one day lead to Ben giving Susan the ultimate gift–a kidney donation.

Catching Up

Ben and Susan stayed in touch after their kids graduated high school but didn't see each other as often. From prior conversations, Ben knew Susan wasn't feeling well. He had no idea her kidneys failed until one fateful Halloween in 2019.

"Susan texted me to let me know she was trick-or-treating with her nieces a few streets away. I invited her over," Ben said. "I noticed she'd lost weight but it wasn't until she mentioned dialysis that I understood the gravity of the situation."

As they talked, Ben learned that every potential donor Susan had was ruled out.

"No one in her family or church was cleared to donate. I can't explain why, but I knew at that moment I wanted to donate a kidney," said Ben. "I asked her to send me information about the process."

What Ben learned strengthened his decision. 

"You can live a normal life with one kidney," Ben said. "The living donor process is very thorough. I felt confident I’d be approved to donate. If I wasn't, the transplant team would let me know."

Ben shared his idea with his wife. While hesitant at first, she was on board after learning more about the process and statistics about successful outcomes for donors. Next, Ben spoke with his sons. 

"My eldest son is best friends with Susan's son. He, along with his younger brother, were incredibly supportive. I waited to speak with the rest of my extended family until the process was further along," said Ben. "I didn't want them to worry needlessly if I wasn't a match."

Are you interested in learning more about living donation? Take NKF's free course, 'Becoming a Living Donor.'

Giving the Ultimate Gift

With his family's support, Ben proceeded with the evaluation process. 

“I went through a number of tests to ensure I was cleared to donate and a solid match, including X-rays, MRI scans, a colonoscopy, and blood work. COVID-19 delayed parts of it, but it took fewer than 10 hours of my time over a couple of months," said Ben. "We weren’t the same blood type, but our blood types were highly compatible. In the end, I was a perfect match."

Susan was delighted but shocked. 

"She couldn't believe that one passing comment could lead to this," Ben said. "It didn't come as a surprise to me. The transplant team went out of their way to make sure I made the decision with care. I didn't feel anxious at all."

The surgery was scheduled for March 2020, but COVID-19 pushed it to late August. 

"My wife was with me and I got to see Susan before the procedure. Susan was happy and upbeat. It calmed what little nerves I had,” Ben said. “The procedure for me was fast and easy. I only had slight rib soreness because of how the donor’s body is positioned during the procedure, and tenderness at the small 3-inch incision point"

Ben was up and walking within a day. After a night at the hospital, he went home to recover for a few weeks. 

"The rib pain lessened over a few weeks and the incision felt better within a few days. Other than that, I felt good. I recovered quickly and feel no different since my donation," Ben said. "After recovering from the surgery, Susan felt better almost immediately because of her new kidney function. Although I’ve run marathons in the past and still jog for fitness, these days Susan and I like to take long walks together with other friends or family members. She likes to joke that she's run marathons because her new kidney did."

Looking for a living kidney donor but don’t know where to start? Take our free course, ‘Finding a Living Donor.’

Sharing His Story

Not wanting to come off as a "humble bragger," Ben kept his donation to himself. Then he saw a post on LinkedIn that changed his mind. 

"I saw a kidney advocate sharing their story. It made me realize the power behind the story Susan and I have and the value of the increased awareness that comes from sharing it. By talking about donating, I'm spreading the word about living kidney donation," said Ben. "I'm living proof that you can live a normal and unchanged life after donating a kidney."

Ben has no restrictions on his diet or exercise. He doesn't need any medication as a result of the surgery. That's the message he wants people to take away from his story.

"I want to encourage people to learn more about the process. There are many resources that explain the procedure, testing, and health outcomes," said Ben. "Everyone has to decide for themselves, but if you feel called to donate, I can't recommend it enough. You are saving a life."

Do you want to spread living kidney donation awareness and make a difference in people's lives, like Ben? Share your story with us–it might be the one story that gives someone else hope.

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