One of the responses I’ve been hearing to my kidney donation is: “[expression of awe,] I could never give one of my kidneys to a stranger.”

Here’s the thing: When I started this whole journey (and it has been a journey), I didn’t think I could give one of my kidneys to a stranger either. I originally contacted the Maine Transplant Organization to see if I was a match for a family friend. If I wasn’t, I was going to keep my kidney. When people asked why I was proceeding with my decision to donate, I usually gave a fairly flip answer, like “Why not?” or “I wasn’t using it anyway.”

While those were true, I mostly didn’t want to go into a long, emotionally jumbled spiel every single time I got that question. But here I’d like to share some of the motivations that caused me to change my mind, in case they turn out to be helpful for anyone else.

First, there were the statistics. I learned that when a kidney fails, there are only two options: dialysis or a transplant. Dialysis is time-consuming, painful (so many needles and tubes), and only performs about 10% of a normal kidney’s filtering function. Life expectancy of a patient on dialysis is 5-10 years. This is a statistical average, so if you or a loved one is on dialysis, don’t panic. There’s variation.

A kidney from a deceased donor functions for about 8-12 years on average. A kidney from a living donor functions for an average of 12-20. Deceased donation is still very important, and of course there are lots of organs you can only donate if you aren’t using them anymore. (Hearts, for example. I’m not giving up mine anytime soon.) But only 3 in 1,000 people die in such a way that their organs can be used for transplant patients.

So I figured I should donate my kidney while it’s still good. Even if I get hit by a meteor tomorrow and all my organs are too squashed to use, I’ve still made my little difference in the world. And if you think you’re too old to be a donor, living or not, you probably aren’t. The Maine Transplant Organization has had donors who are over 80 years old.


Like a lot of LGBTQ people, I’m wary of the label “Christian.” But I can’t deny that my family’s Episcopal faith helped me further down this road.

My mom in particular is very much a Luke 3:11 sort of Christian – you know, “Let the man with two coats give one to him who has none.” I only have one good winter coat. But I had two good kidneys. And it turns out that going to church every Sunday for my whole childhood and having a priest intone from the altar: “Jesus said … this is my body which is given for you” has an effect on a growing girl. I feel weird talking about the things I believe, in part because I’m not 100% sure what, exactly, I believe. But I will show you my faith by my works.

And of course, like so many things in my life, the decision to donate a kidney boils down to my daddy issues. Dad was only 59 when he died of cancer. (On my birthday, no less.) Watching him get sicker and sicker and being completely unable to do anything about it was probably the most traumatic experience of my life thus far. I loved my father very much. I would have done anything to buy him more time. A surgical procedure that carried as much risk as a C-section, a four-week vacation, and yearly urine tests for the rest of my life was an acceptable price for me to pay in order to buy another family the time mine didn’t get.

If there’s one thing I want you to take away from my experience, it is this: You do not have to be some sort of heroic angel saint to donate a kidney. I am an extremely average person. I have many, many flaws. I can be mean, selfish, lazy. I’m always leaving dishes in the sink. I spend too much money on scented candles. You know what another motivating factor was for me? A four-week paid vacation. I have watched so many Netflix documentaries, you guys.

I feel a little weird harping on this kidney donation so publicly, because I didn’t do it for the applause. (“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”)

I did it because it seemed, to me, like the right thing to do. But I do have this platform. And here’s another terrible statistic: Roughly 13 people die every day waiting for a kidney transplant. I figure I have a moral obligation to help when I can. If demystifying the donation process can help even one person, job well done. And the generosity of Mainers never ceases to amaze me. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Maine has a higher percentage of living donors than most other states. But like my dad always said, the biggest room in the world is room for improvement.

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