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Steve Pinksi: FFRF Life Member donates kidney to stranger

By Steve Pinski


Steve Pinski rests in his hospital bed after donating a kidney.

donated my kidney to a complete stranger.

For me, this was a very simple decision — it was the right thing to do. I have two brothers-in-law with Huntington’s disease. They, in turn, had two children each with Huntington’s disease. Huntington’s is a terrible genetic disease that eventually takes everything from you. If I could donate a kidney, liver or arm to help them, I would, without hesitation. Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do except visit them in a total care facility, which my wife and I do as often as possible. There is no cure.

Obviously, I don’t think this decision was influenced by God, since I don’t believe in a personal Santa Claus god. My religion didn’t help me donate a kidney, because I believe all religions on Earth are man-made and false. Furthermore, while I believe “nothing fails like a prayer,” I also believe “nothing succeeds like true compassionate action.” You can be good without a personal god.

I merely figured if I couldn’t help my family members who have a genetic disease, I might as well help whomever I could. People are dying every day waiting for a kidney and I have two good ones. With my decision made, I just had to find out if I was eligible to donate and then do it.

Data speak volumes

I’m an engineer, and I really like data. Checking out the National Kidney Foundation website, I found the following statistics:

• There are currently 121,678 people waiting for lifesaving organ transplants in the United States. Of these, 100,791 await kidney transplants.

• The median wait time for an individual’s first kidney transplant is 3.6 years and can vary depending on health, compatibility and availability of organs.

• In 2014, 17,107 kidney transplants took place in the United States. Of these, 11,570 came from deceased donors and 5,537 came from living donors.

Also, on average:

• More than 3,000 new patients are added to the kidney waiting list each month.

• 13 people die each day while waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant.

• In 2014, 4,761 patients died while waiting for a kidney transplant. Another, 3,668 people became too sick to receive a kidney transplant.

While there are several different ways to go through the process of donating an organ, here’s the process I went through. First, I went to the National Kidney Registry (NKR) website and clicked the button, “I am considering donating my kidney.” The NKR process then went into high gear.

I had to complete the NKR screening via the website and then, once clearing that step, I had to fill out my full medical history on the website. From there, I had to select the NKR medical center where I wanted the surgery performed. (I chose the University of Colorado Health Center in Denver.)

Three days later, I was contacted by the UC Health living donor coordinator. I then underwent complete workups and labs. Getting cleared for donation took about eight weeks.

At that point, NKR organizes the chain of people to get kidneys. (In my case, it was three).

Finally, there was the pre-op followed by the surgery on July 31. I now have to go to post-op appointments to review my health at six months, one year and two years.

Psychological interview

If you are a non-directed donor (donating to someone you do not know), you must see a psychologist. They want to understand why you want to donate an organ to a complete stranger. One of the very interesting anecdotal things I was told during my psychologist interview had to do with religion. I explained I used to be very religious, but I had left all religion about 10 years ago. My psychologist looked at me and said, “That’s interesting.” I asked why he thought that was interesting. He then told me that, in his experience, most of the people who donate to complete strangers are nonreligious. I guess humanism really is making the world a better place.

Other than my wife and kids, I had not told anyone until I was cleared to donate. I figured I didn’t need to tell anyone unless it was really going to happen. In addition, I have five sisters, and my mother — who are all nurses. I was about to break the cardinal rule the nurses in my family taught me: Never go into a hospital and have surgery unless it’s absolutely necessary. So, I couldn’t tell any of my family nurses until it was over. I told my brother and he was very happy for me.

But I also couldn’t tell several of my sisters and mother, prior to the surgery, because of religion. The very religious among them would have started prayer chains all over the country. I prefer to be in the hands of science and not give them the satisfaction of thinking their prayers made the surgery turn out great. And the surgery did, indeed, turn out great!

My kidney was removed at 7:30 a.m., on July 31, packed in ice, and shipped to Madison, Wis., on the same day it was removed. Someone received it later in the afternoon that very day.

When donating, it is possible to know who received the kidney, although it’s not always a sure thing. Both parties — the donor and the recipient — have to want to communicate. The first communication is strictly done through the health center coordinators.

I wrote to my kidney recipient and I received a reply. We plan to have further communications, and hopefully we can meet some day.

What I learned about my recipient is that he had been on dialysis for 5 ½ years and now he says he’s doing “great.”

What I also know is my recipient’s wife was willing to donate her kidney to her husband, but she was not a match. My recipient’s wife promised to donate her kidney to a second stranger when her husband received a kidney. And then the chain continued one more time for a third kidney recipient. So, three separate people received kidneys because I started the chain with a donation to a stranger.

I didn’t care what race, religion or sex my kidney recipient was. I am just pleased that person has the chance to live a happy healthy life in honor of my family members with Huntington’s disease.

Quick recovery

I was walking the morning after surgery. I was walking two miles within a week. I was walking four miles within two weeks. I could walk/run four miles within four weeks. A few precautions I now take include not using meds such as aspirin, Ibuprofen, etc., keeping my salt intake low and checking my blood pressure occasionally. Other than that, I feel great and I’m back doing everything I was doing prior to the surgery.

And, yes, I would donate my kidney again in a heartbeat. (If you thought I meant donating my second kidney, that would be a “no.”) I never felt pressured to donate. As a matter of fact, I was assigned a “donor advocate,” who told me over and over that I could back out at any time. I also never felt nervous, even as I was wheeled into the operating room. My surgeon was incredible and the entire operation/post-op team was amazing. Even the hospital food was fantastic.

While donating a kidney may not be an option for everyone, it is worth considering if you are in good health.

FFRF Life Member Steve Pinksi of Colorado owns a small cinematography drone business and is an FAA-certified drone pilot.