Donating a kidney is a life-affirming experience - Salish Current
March 24, 2023
Donating a kidney is a life-affirming experience
Helene Fellows

Registered nurse and kidney donor Helene Fellows tells the story of her life-affirming — and life-saving — experience. March is National Kidney Month, bringing awareness to an often silent disease. (Courtesy image)

March 24, 2023
Donating a kidney is a life-affirming experience
Helene Fellows

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The essays, analyses and opinions presented as Community Voices express the perspectives of their authors on topics of interest and importance to the community, and are not intended to reflect perspectives on behalf of the Salish Current.

We tell stories all the time. If we want to inform or educate on an important topic we need to tell a good story because most people are not motivated by data. 

It is no accident that traditions and cultures are often preserved through storytelling and narrative. We process a call to action through an emotional lens. It is through that lens that we choose to act or not act. 

One of my stories is how and why I became a living kidney donor. As a young girl, I couldn’t wait to check that box on my driver’s license application to sign up as an organ donor. I have no idea where that “need” came from. But, it was deep inside of me. 

Decades later, in 2017, I donated my “spare” kidney to my husband who was diagnosed with Alport syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes progressive kidney disease. I did the right thing for me and my family. I was fortunate to be able to donate to Arthur, but ultimately I saved his life for our kids. I would have given my kidney to anyone, but we got lucky it worked out the way it did. 

Because March is National Kidney Month and April is National Donate Life Month, it’s a good time to share my story. Some living donors report moments of doubt; others say they never had any doubt. For them, they just knew it was the right thing to do. The vast majority of living donors say, if they could, they’d donate again, because their donation was a life-affirming, humbling gift that enriched their lives — and saved a life.

The process to become a living kidney donor is not fast and without challenges, nor should it be. A team will walk you through the process — a full medical workup, compatibility testing, coordinating care once a match is identified; financial concerns are addressed.

High on a potential donor’s list of concerns is, “who’s going to pay for this?” The recipient’s insurance covers all testing, and surgical and inpatient expenses for donors. There are variable allowed stipends for incidentals such as travel, lodging and food for the donor.

The process has gotten easier for donors over the years. Surgery and recovery time have improved exponentially. Along with a much easier surgical process for donors, the success rates for recipients has greatly improved, too. I can attest that choosing to donate is all voluntary, there is no coercion.

I’m a registered nurse, so I do recognize that data does matter, but stories are the motivator.

  • 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. is at risk for kidney disease.
  • Diabetes is the top cause of kidney disease.
  • High blood pressure is the second top cause.
  • Kidney disease can strike anyone.
  • 37 million U.S. adults have kidney disease.
  • 48% of people with severely reduced kidney function and not on dialysis are not aware they have kidney disease.
  • Every 24 hours, about 340 people begin dialysis treatment for kidney failure.
  • Over 90,000 people are on the kidney transplant waiting list.

If you or someone you know is considering becoming a living kidney donor, or simply want to know more about it, please contact me and I’ll help in any way that I can. 

— Contributed by Helene Fellows, RN

We welcome letters to the editor responding to or amplifying subjects addressed in Community Voices. If you wish to contribute to Community Voices, please send an email with a subject proposal to Managing Editor Mike Sato (msato@rockisland.com) and he will respond with guidelines.

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