That time I gave away my kidney

Image credit: ResearchGate
David Mickelson | Phil Wooley

On the last morning of May, 2019, I took part in a 4-way kidney swap in San Francisco. I had signed up to save a man named David Mickelson, a guy who lived a few streets down, but was now saving a mom from Fresno!

The following videos document many of my adventures with the donation process. I’m glad I made these, since it is all now such a blur.

Sadly, David passed in 2022, after battling an aggressive cancer. I’m glad he had at least 3 years free of dialysis, but it breaks my heart to know I’ll never make good on that dinner I owed him.

Elizabeth, a mother and grandmother, seems to be enjoying her extended years, carrying the kidney my mama gave me. I’m glad my former bean is treating her well. I also have much respect for her hero daughter April, who signed up for the 4-way to save her mom.

What was it like?

I stayed pretty focused on success. I watched every video I could find on YouTube, and read lots of patient stories. The only time I really felt scared, was right before they wheeled me into the E.R. I really think by making my journey public, both on YouTube and Facebook, it helped me keep my wit. It’s easier to be brave when you know thousands of people are watching.

There was LOTS of testing. They poked and prodded me, then threw me at shrinks and social workers. The whole time, right until surgery, they kept telling me I could back out.

Recovery HURT for the first week. If ever you chop out a kidney for your neighbor, I strongly advise you to ask for an abdominal binder to take home. Also, CBD really does work. DO NOT try doing a pull-up off the edge of the garage roof, showing off to your teenage son and his friends – at least not in the first couple weeks.

Most people seem to do fine, especially since they have to be in good health to donate. I’ve been mostly normal, but there were a few side effects:

  • Alcohol consumption – 2 servings max, or I get sick.
  • I drink LOTS of water now.
  • The remaining kidney is supposed to “grow” to 80% functionality of the 2. Mine didn’t get that memo – function stays at or below 50%.*
  • *UPDATE: Last GFR reading was 68! WOOHOO!!
My [NON-GRAPHIC] adventure documented in 2019

Do I have any regrets?

I wish I had seen David’s plea for help sooner. He’d been looking for a donor for over 5 years. A few more of those years spent off dialysis, would have been nice. Then again, if I hadn’t donated when I did, I may not have been there for my new sister in Fresno. I guess things happen for a reason.