Stacey Donovan’s donation would also set off an amazing chain reaction that would change not just one life, but seven.
It all started in 2013 in Prairie Village, Kansas, where Donovan lives with her husband and three rescue dogs.
While reading a science magazine, Donovan came across an article about the immense need for kidney donations. Estimates indicate that 600,000 Americans suffer from kidney failure, a serious and potentially fatal condition. Dialysis is the solution for many, but it can be exhausting. The typical procedure takes four hours at a time, has to be done three times a week, and can cause cramps, headaches, and vomiting.
A kidney transplant is usually the only way for patients to be free from dialysis, but kidneys are in short supply. The waiting list is almost 100,000 people long. Many people end up waiting for years.
“It just sounded like such a difficult, hard-to-keep-your-hope-up kind of existence,” said Donovan.
Donovan decided to do something most people have probably never considered. She was going to donate a kidney.
“It wasn’t a difficult choice. I’ve taken more time deliberating whether to grow out my bangs,” she later wrote.
Donovan had never met the man who would get her kidney. She didn’t even know his name.
Donovan and her husband drove to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis for the surgery. After she woke up, a nurse told her, “Welp, nobody can ever say you never did anything nice for anyone.”
But Donovan’s kidney was only the start of this story.
Because of Donovan, the San Diego man’s wife decided to pay the good deed forward and donated her own kidney to another unrelated recipient. And that in turn set off another donation. And another. And another. In total, Donovan’s initial donation ended up getting seven different people new kidneys.
It was a lifesaving effort carefully planned by the National Kidney Registry.
When a person needs a kidney, friends and family often try to donate but many find out they’re not compatible. In the past, this would be the end of the story, but starting in the late-1980s, doctors and hospitals realized they could simply swap who gets which kidney. Sometimes, these were simple exchanges, but sometimes a single altruistic donor can set off a chain reaction — a donor like Donovan.
Today, Donovan’s back to her old life, though now she’s worried others might not be able to follow in her footsteps.
Donovan still hasn’t met the man who got her kidney, but she has been able to get a glimpse of what it meant to him and his family.
About a week after the surgery, Donovan ended up getting a special package in the mail.
“I got all these handwritten letters from his family members,” said Donovan. It turned out the man wasn’t just somebody’s husband — he was a father and grandfather. In the letters, grandkids explained how the man could now go to the beach with them again. He could see them graduate.
The man’s wife wrote as well. In her letter, she described life before the donation. It read, «…He’s in the back room all the time in pain.» But thanks to Donovan’s generosity, she said, that pain could fade away.