I am donating

I am donating

I wanted to share about an important action I am taking in my life and why, as well as invite you to accompany me in the journey. I am donating one of my kidneys! 

I will donate at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis between December 18, 2023, and January 8, 2024. I will know the precise date a couple of weeks before the donation.

I’m doing this because it is important for me to contribute to the welfare of others, including people whom I don’t know. Since looking into kidney donations, I have learned that people die every day because they don’t have a kidney they need. When I donate, I will likely save somebody’s life. I also will likely increase the quality of their life, since kidney disease and dialysis are difficult to live with. I think I will feel really good about this.

I believe in doing good in ways that will not be directly reciprocated and not limited to individuals who share my moral/religious/political/racial/gender/etc identities, views, and practices. When it comes to my personal life, I tend to spend my time and energy around people who are like me in some way or another (animal advocate, comes from class privilege, bike commuter, city-dweller, Indian, and much more). I like that my community understands me and does a great job of supporting me. I also believe in personally providing support, healing, and care outside of my community.

My goal in writing this post is not to suggest that other people should donate their kidneys, but to share my story of why doing this is important to me. It’s a very personal decision, and right now my attention is on my well-being through my donation process–and involving you in this process. 

I feel excited about donating and also apprehensive. I have never had major surgery, and there are some risks. I feel uncertain about how to navigate and communicate about this. I have also been reflecting about how donating is an opportunity for me to rethink how I live my life as well as a time for deep reflection. I am curious about living with deeper authenticity, feeling connected to the fragility of life, grateful for my opportunities and abilities, and re-engaged with my life’s purpose of facilitating social change and healing.

I’ll need to be proactive to cultivate my continued evolution. I am also ok with not doing anything but giving the kidney and meeting my basic needs, too! But if I will make changes in my life — I want your guidance, participation, and support. 

If you’d like to follow along or consider helping me with the recovery, follow along and sign up here.

Some questions and Answers

Is it safe?

Major surgery and general anesthetic carries some risk, including Infection and death. “Kidney donor surgery has a .007% mortality rate, which means that on average, for every 100,000 living donor surgeries, seven donors die.” according to the National Kidney Registry. I will also have a small increased risk in end stage renal (kidney) disease. The medical team conducting the surgery did numerous tests and collected information about my health background, and deemed that my risk level is very low.

Who are you donating to?

I am making a non-directed donation, i.e. to whomever needs a kidney. I won’t immediately meet or be in touch with the person I am donating to, and I have not yet decided if I do want to be in touch.

What care do you need after the surgery?

I will need company, help with basic physical tasks, socializing, empathy, and encouragement to get me through recovery. I’ll spend around 2 days in the hospital. After the hospital stay, I’ll have a lifting restriction for about six weeks so I may need help with moving or lifting things. I am used to being physically active and able, so it will be an adjustment for me to ask for and receive help. I will need help the most in the first couple of weeks, and after that I will likely need less help.

I expect I will want visitors at the hospital, and I will definitely want many visitors for my continued recovery at home. I may need help with groceries and food preparation (probably not a lot of cooking, though – I’ll make food for myself in advance). My financial situation is secure so I will not need any funds.

Can I help provide care for you after surgery?

Yes, I encourage you to help out as you can. Please stay in touch, sign up to visit, bring a friend, and help me with your presence, encouragement, and physical tasks. Follow along here to help out.

I don’t expect I will be pleasant company as I am recovering. So it will take grace and generosity from you to be present with me!

I live out of town. How can I support you? (This also applies to folks in town!)

  • Please email, text, call, and message me. I may not respond quickly, but I appreciate the supportive messages. 
  • Write a letter or postcard to me. I love postal mail! If you don’t have my address, please ask. (I have been living in the same place since 2006).
  • Do you know a mutual friend or relative of ours? Please tell them about my donation. I may not reach everybody I would like directly, so I appreciate your assistance. 
  • Do you know folks who are supporting me in person? Please thank them and give them whatever encouragement and support they need.
  • Pray, meditate, or send well wishes. I recommend meditations by Tara Brach. I want you to feel great about the generosity you exhibit in your life, and to deepen your self-understanding of how to be generous in ways that align with your deepest values.

What have you learned about giving a kidney?

There is a big shortage of kidneys, people are regularly dying for lack of kidneys, and it’s pretty safe to donate (as I mentioned above). Nonetheless, it’s a deeply personal decision to give a donation. If you want to consider donating, I recommend looking inwards for the most important part of the answer. Donating anonymously also may start a chain donation: “In a chain, a donor will donate to someone in need of a kidney who has someone willing to donate on their behalf but is incompatible or is a poor match. That paired donor will then donate to someone else in need of a kidney who has a donor willing to donate on their behalf.” So basically, an anonymous donor can set off a series of donations that results in several people getting new kidneys.

Who inspired you to donate?

I first heard about the idea from a friend years ago. I didn’t know it was a possibility to donate a kidney until she told me about it. My friends Matt Schroeder, Jay Shooster (please support him as he is running for office!), and Doobie Kurus (organizer of the Hopkins Royal Triathlon, which I have done several times) have all donated their kidneys.

How can I learn more? 

  1. Video: About the living kidney donor experience 
  2. Interviews: people who have donated a kidney talk about their experience
  3. Organization: National Kidney Registry’s Frequently Asked Questions about kidney donation
  4. Book: I read the book The Insider’s Guide to Living Kidney Donation by Carol Offen and Elizabeth (Betsy) Crais and found it very informative. I recommend reading that. The National Kidney Donor Organization has lots of useful information, too.

What if your remaining kidney fails?

This is a very unlikely scenario. I will be on the priority list to get a new kidney if that happens.

What if one of your relatives needs a kidney?

I can give a voucher to five family members. If they need a kidney, they will be prioritized. It is possible that somebody that I don’t name needs a kidney, and that’s a risk that I knowingly take on.

How will your life change after you donate? 

I expect to have the same physical capabilities after I donate and recover. I intend on resuming my generally physically active life in the spring.

You can follow along and sign up for updates here.

9 replies
  1. Stephen Eisenmenger
    Stephen Eisenmenger says:

    Undirected is amazing Unny! I donated via the paired exchange for a friend in May, it’s easy to do when you know the person whose life will improve. The first week after surgery wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had, but moving as much as I could and resting allowed me to ride a bike some 18 days after surgery. The extensive testing pre-surgery is a personal benefit, they are thorough! My friend’s brother had prostate cancer detected while preparing to donate and that’s how I was afforded the opportunity – it had not occurred to me to do what you are doing, again, amazing Unny! Truly inspiring!! The UofM center was fantastic, I enjoyed working with all the folks there, they really made me feel comfortable throughout the whole process.

    • unny
      unny says:

      Thanks, Stephen! I appreciate hearing your story. I think there’s lots good ways to be generous and I appreciate how you gave, too.

  2. Mikhala
    Mikhala says:

    As someone who may need a kidney in the future (and proactively worries about the scarcity inherent to organ donation), I find your generosity especially heartening.

  3. Jon Bockman
    Jon Bockman says:

    It takes a lot of courage, compassion, and conviction to engage in such a selfless act, Unny. Few people will ever even consider doing what you are doing, let alone go through with it. I have tremendous respect and love for your intentions and actions here, and the way that you’ve outlined your thinking about helpings others is heartwarming. Thank you for being such a kind human in all that you do—I am grateful for our friendship.

    • unny
      unny says:

      Hi Jon, Thanks for you comment, and for your affirmation of my values and contributions. Great to hear how this feels to you. I am grateful for our friendship, too.

  4. Jonathan Rosenberry
    Jonathan Rosenberry says:

    This is so inspiring Unny! It’s a really beautiful example of doing good for the sake of doing good and not expecting anything in return (other than perhaps joy). I want to practice giving to those in need who I don’t know. So I appreciate the push. Thanks for sharing this emotional and thoughtful journey with us!


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