Contributor Spotlight: All in the Family

I explained in our first Spotlight on Contributors why we devoted a whole section of our book, The Insider’s Guide to Living Kidney Donation, to family dynamics. The chapters by the following two contributors–Monica Sheppard and Daniel Ranch–illustrate how different families handle medical crises differently, yet with some surprising similarities, regardless of their background.

Monica Sheppard, a research analyst who lives in the Baltimore area with her husband, Reggie, donated to her mom, who, she says, had always been a “giver.” Even though her mother tried to downplay the urgency and the discomfort of her kidney failure, Monica and her brother instinctively recognized the critical need and volunteered to be tested to be a living donor. Monica made the cut.

As an African American, Monica initially feared that her friends and relatives might be negative about her plan, because organ donation, particularly live donation, is uncommon in the African American community. Instead, as she relates in her chapter, she was able to turn their hesitancy and natural concern into a learning experience. With a better understanding of living donation, in fact, a few people shared that they might even consider the idea for themselves someday. (A good friend later became a nondirected donor!)

Today Monica, who donated her kidney nearly 14 years ago, leads an active personal and professional life. She’s coming up on 20 years at RTI International, where she co-leads the Emerging Equity Scholars program. She and husband Reggie are enjoying resuming travel and have an upcoming trip to Mexico. In her quieter moments, Monica is an avid podcast and audible book listener.

Aside from the cultural pressures that Monica feared, for most couples and families touched by kidney disease, the medical aspects of the experience are frightening unknowns. But even for couples very familiar with their options, like physicians and med students, the experience can be overwhelming and similarly scary.

Daniel Ranch, now a pediatric kidney specialist himself, donated to his wife, Kana Kornsawad, in 2009, soon after they had both finished med school. As Danny relates in his chapter, instead of listening to the experts who told the couple that Kana’s kidney disease was progressing fast, they went looking for other opinions. In hindsight, he admits that their years-long delaying actions were futile–“but doctors are human too, and in times of crisis, we will cling to any shred of hope, same as anyone else.”

Fortunately, Kana was ultimately able to get her transplant in time–with her husband as her donor–and his kidney has served her well. Interestingly, she and Danny both care for transplant patients in their respective careers (her specialty is Internal Medicine). We know that in addition to skill and caring, they both surely bring a deep understanding and empathy to their interactions with their patients.

With the pain of those difficult pre-transplant years receding from memory, today Danny and Kana still share a love for their work and for each other. They spend their little free time happily walking their “pampered” dog, Camille, together in the woods and neighborhood parks.

Read Monica’s and Danny’s chapters in The Insider’s Guide to Living Kidney Donation.

For more information about the book, donation-related resources and FAQs, plus other blog posts, be sure to explore my website.

Kidneyversary: 16 Years and Counting

In case you’ve only recently discovered this blog, you should know that I donated my kidney to my adult son, Paul, on June 27, 2006 (he shared his reflections in a 2019 post). This week we arrived at the Sweet 16 mark! Both of my kidneys, by the way, are still going strong, faithfully doing their job–just in different bodies.

The Comeback Kidney, as “he” was named, is healthy, and Paul’s overall kidney function is stable. Mine, happily, is perfectly normal, particularly considering that people’s kidney function declines with age, and I just turned 74. The other important measure is for creatinine–to show how well the kidney is filtering toxins–and I’m proud to say that mine is an impressive .84 (under 1.1 is normal for women).

So, 16 years out from donation, even though I’m a lot older than I was then, I’m very healthy and active (read: I walk and hike). I was never athletic, but lots of living donors are. If you’re a potential donor and have any concerns about donation cramping your lifestyle, learn about the Kidney Donor Athletes. They enjoy ultra-marathons, triathlons, and in March they celebrated World Kidney Day by climbing to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak!

Our kidney celebrations are a bit more mundane. We went out to dinner to honor the occasion, as we do every year at this time. (The notable exception was, of course, 2020, when we “celebrated” the best we could in our front yard.)

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

A Virtual Trek for Transplant

I’ve been on vacation and haven’t been here in a long while. What did I miss?

One cool activity that I know is already under way is the Trek to the Games (that’s the Transplant Games 2022, which will be held July 29 to August 3 in San Diego). California is a long way from my home base in North Carolina, so I won’t be at the Games in person, much as I’d love to. But this is a virtual trek: a fun, creative way to raise awareness of and educate people about organ transplantation.

It’s the brainchild of Transplant Trekkers, fellow living donors, kidney recipients, professionals, and advocates for donation. You may recall that that’s the San Diego-based re-formed group of the original WELD (Women Encouraging Living Donation).

The Trek started June 1 but runs through August 4. That means that if you’re interested, you can still join the journey a bit late, like me. My favorite activity–and the way I’ll be making my way on the roughly 3,000-mile virtual trek from New Jersey to California–is by walking outdoors; for my husband, it’s running; for my friend Sharon, it’s swimming and cycling.

Whether your favorite activity is one of those, or gardening or pickleball or whatever, you can participate by entering the “miles” you run/walk etcetera (there’s a conversion chart) in a digital chart that’s then displayed on a map of the country.

Just go to the Transplant Trekkers website for complete information and registration ($10). You’ll be asked if you want to join a team (mine is the Cheetah Trekkers). You can join mine or another–or participate on your own.

The hope is to involve people who know little or nothing about transplant, because participants will learn fun facts about organ transplantation and donation along the way. Everyone is encouraged to invite friends and family who are simply active and maybe intrigued by this adventure.

I have to go enter my miles now. Hope to see you en route!