Less than a year ago, Jenelle knew nothing about living kidney donation. Then she learned of a man in her city who needed a kidney and had taken to social media to find a suitable donor. After reading his story in the newspaper, Jenelle decided to further research living kidney donation. It didn’t take long for her to become convinced.

“I looked into the process and I thought, that’s something I can do,” she said, even though she’d never met the recipient.

But Jenelle didn’t take her decision to donate lightly. After contacting the hospital and beginning down the road to donation, she decided that the facility was too disorganized for her comfort.

“I felt bad because this man needed a kidney, but you really have to stop and think when you’re not comfortable with the transplant team. I wanted to donate, but I also wanted to make sure I was taking care of myself. I’d hoped to get involved in a paired exchange so I could still help him out, but it didn’t work out that way.”

[The good news is that the man she was going to donate to found a donor in early April and will be receiving a transplant soon.]

Despite the setback with this particular recipient, Jenelle remained dedicated to donating. She researched area hospitals to find a program that she felt comfortable with. She ended up at a hospital in Portland, Oregon, a few hours from her home in Washington. The facility secured, she began the testing process in November 2015.

“The program I went with did a great job of preparing me for everything, including risks and all that stuff. I’m a Type A personality, so I stayed on top of my research and the process all the way to the surgery date. I had a hospital packing list weeks ahead of time.

“I felt really prepared for everything, but that didn’t stop me from having irrational thoughts as I got closer to donating, like what would happen if I got stabbed in my remaining kidney after I donated. It sounds silly now. I think it was just the idea of having only one kidney that got to me a little bit. And there were some other irrational thoughts about death, but I think that’s normal.”

The biggest surprise for Jenelle was the day of the procedure, March 1 2016. Normally very collected and cool-headed, her nerves–like most all of us who’ve been down the donation road–got the best of her a few times.

“No matter how prepared you think you are, you just can’t know how you’ll feel the day of. I never expected to be so nervous.”

By the first week of April, Jenelle already felt 98% better. She stopped taking pain medication just a few days after the surgery, though it took about four weeks before she could get through a whole day without feeling exhausted.

Despite the months that have passed, Jenelle still hasn’t met her recipient, and she’s not sure if she will.

“For the first three months either of us can send an anonymous letter to the other one through the transplant team. We can then decide to meet if we want to. After the three months, any contact has to be initiated by the recipient.

“At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to meet the person, but now I think it would be really amazing. I like that I donated non-directed and not to a family member. I think if it was someone close to me I’d always be judging how they treat their bodies. To that end, it’s nice to have some distance.”

Though the thought of meeting her recipient excites her, the idea also makes her just a little nervous.

“I don’t know anything about them, not even why they needed a kidney. That’s a little scary. Also, I’m not exactly traditional in appearance. Sometimes I wonder what they’d think if they saw me.”

Still, Jenelle has no regrets. To anyone out there considering donating, she offers only this:

“Do your research,” she says. “Donating isn’t for everybody, and the only way you can make the right decision is by having all the information available. For me, I see having only one kidney as a motivator to take care of my body and my health. But everyone has their own reasons. Nothing is guaranteed, but if you do your research, you’re going to be better off in the long run.”

Jenelle York Donor
Jenelle and her husband Dave, post-op

Jenelle’s story amazes me partially because of the extreme altruism of donating to a stranger, but also because she still hasn’t met–and may never meet–her recipient. While I can’t imagine not knowing my recipient, Jenelle’s rationale makes sense to me; I often have to remind myself not to think about or judge my recipient’s choices (though between the two of us, I probably make more bad choies). Still, to have peace after donating anonymously is something I don’t think I could do. I applaud Jenelle’s decision and foll0w-through and I hope many more would-be donors have hearts as generous and courageous as hers.

Do you have a story about kidney transplantation you’d like to share? Contact me and I’ll get back to you within a few days!