Living Donors Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro?

Yes, you read that right.

In a recent magazine interview, I was explaining that I still lead a healthy active life, at 73, about 15 years postdonation. I was never an athlete, but I knew plenty of donors who ran marathons, I said. Being a donor typically rules out only activities like contact sports–and, say, mountain climbing, I joked.

Well, I’m happy to report that the joke was on me.

Twenty-two members of Kidney Donor Athletes from across the United States (and one from Canada), plan to do just that next month (March 2022). They’re training now to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak! I’m told you don’t need technical mountain-climbing skills per se for this one. However, you certainly need to be in excellent physical shape for any expedition that starts at the equator and gets colder and colder till it reaches the arctic zone at the top.

I was excited to see that one of the donor climbers, Matthew Harmody, hails from my state, North Carolina. In fact, he donated at the same transplant center as I did: the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Matt and I have something else in common: we both donated when we were in our late 50s. (More than a third of living donors are over 50.) Admittedly, that’s where the commonalities end. Unlike me, Matt is clearly no wimp.

Now 60, Matt, an emergency physician from Southern Pines, NC, was an endurance athlete (think ultra-marathons and 100K trail races) long before his 2017 donation. Also, he was a nondirected donor–he gave to someone he has yet to meet. (I gave my kidney to my adult son.)

Matt’s donation was in memory of his father, who had kidney failure and would not accept a donation from a family member (that’s not an uncommon parental instinct). “I felt that if I couldn’t help my father, I could at least make a difference in someone’s life with a non-directed kidney donation,” Matt explained.

Kidney Donor Athletes founder Tracey Hulick was also an ultra-athlete/nondirected donor in 2017. She formed the nonprofit in 2018 to encourage living donation and of course to inspire other athletes.

But why the dramatic One Kidney Climb?

“KDA is using this climb to bring awareness to living donation, demonstrate what is possible post-donation, and to launch initiatives which inspire, support and educate people about the experience of living donation,” according to the website. The March scheduling is significant: the group plans to reach the summit on March 10, World Kidney Day. (BTW, March is National Kidney Month in the United States.)

Come to think of it, Matt and I do have a few more things in common:

1-We’re both in excellent health, have good kidney function, and don’t see a nephrologist.

2-For pain relief, we opt for acetominophen (aka Tylenol) instead of ibuprophen (or other NSAIDS, which are all hard on the kidneys).

3-Most of all, we’re both champions for living donation.

For related posts, resources, and information on my new book, The Insider’s Guide to Living Kidney Donation, be sure to explore the rest of my website.

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