Become a Living Organ Donor, the Greatest of All Gifts

Martin Skaates

By Martin Skaates | April 4, 2018

I’m the recipient of a kidney from a living donor. One of my friends donated his kidney to me in March of 2017. Since that time, I’ve worked to spread the word on the importance of living organ donation. Without question, it is the greatest gift one person can give to another.

My kidneys were failing, and I was getting close to needing dialysis. It was clear that a transplant would be necessary. Having been diagnosed with a genetic condition called polycystic kidney disease (PKD) as a kid, and having my father go through it as well with his own PKD, I always knew I was at risk. We had always thought my sister could be a donor for me, as she doesn’t have the disease, but during the initial screening she was disqualified. The screening for potential living donors is very strict.

Suddenly, I was in a bind. I was placed on the list to receive a kidney from a deceased donor, but that has a significant wait time between three to five years. We clearly needed an alternative, so my whole family was tested for a match. My aunt was qualified as a donor, but because I’m well over six feet and my aunt is five-four, the surgeon suggested I search for another donor.

Once we realized that no one in the immediate family was an appropriate match, I created a Facebook page to let my friends know that I was in need of a kidney. Many people stepped up, and maybe four or five ended up getting tested, though most ended up being disqualified for a variety of reasons. Thankfully, my friend, Andy, made it through the screening and he was able to do it.

I’ll always feel indebted to Andy, and I’m so thankful for him doing this. Not only did he donate a kidney, there was a two-week recuperation after the surgery, as well as a lot of upfront testing that he had to go through. He had to fly in from Michigan three or four times.

Everything that has happened to me since the transplant is because of Andy’s gift. I just came back from skiing in Utah. There is no way I could have done it if I was on dialysis.

April is Organ Donor Awareness Month, and I encourage everyone to think about becoming an organ donor. To help you in your thinking, I want to share five things about living organ donation that you might not know:

Living donors outlive the general population. Living donors generally have a longer life expectancy than the average person in the United States. I think part of it is the strong sense of altruism behind the donation, as altruistic people tend to live longer. Another factor is that donors are screened so carefully, all paid for by insurance. I had several friends that are the absolute picture of health, but they were disqualified as donors because of some minor health issue they didn’t even know they had.

Being a living donor is a tremendous gift. People are suffering because of kidney failure, and a transplant can help transform or save their lives. It’s an altruistic decision. They say that, as a donor, you really have a sense of happiness because you’ve helped someone like that, and I believe that’s true.

There are 100,000 people awaiting a kidney. We’ve all checked off the box for “organ donation” on our driver’s license, but it’s really not enough. Kidneys from a living donor last longer than those from a deceased donor. First of all, living donors are in excellent health, while deceased donor kidneys may have had compromised health, or have had tissue damage.

One donor can trigger a chain of life-saving transplants. Doctors work hard to make the best matches, and there are often situations were one family member wants to donate for a loved one, but they aren’t a good match. Sometimes they may be a match for someone else who needs a kidney. In that case, a whole chain of donations can be set up. An altruistic donor, who is giving with the idea that the kidney can be placed anywhere, can be the key to making a chain of donations possible. Instead of helping a single person, a donation can help a lot of people.

Remember the story about my aunt, not being able to donate her kidney to me? Well, she went ahead and made a donation altruistically. She doesn’t even know where her organ went or who received it. We are all really hoping that the recipient comes forward someday, but for now we are satisfied that she helped a stranger in need, which in some ways expresses our thanks to Andy for his gift to me.

It takes a special person to become a living donor. There are a lot of physical exams and blood tests, all of which take time, effort and (in Andy’s case) travel. It’s not an easy process, but it is important, and it might be a life-saving gift for someone. I hope you will consider becoming a living donor.

Take a few moments to register as a donor. It’s fast, easy, secure, and painless. Also, please explore the many activities around National Donate Life Month. April 13th, for example, is National Donate Life Blue & Green Day, where people are encouraged to wear blue and green, hold events and fundraisers, and partner with local restaurants, malls, media, and community organizations in an effort to promote the success of organ, eye and tissue transplantation.

3 Comments

  • Thank you for sharing. This is a wonderful story. I am so happy to hear about such amazing triumphs that came about from a major challenge. I come from a very similar story. My brother Garrett, was diagnosed with MPGN Type 3 kidney disease at 10 years old. By the time he was 18 he lost all function. My mother Cathy, donated her Kidney. Unfortunately, the kidney rejected and my brother went on dialysis. Two years later, my older brother Vincent, donated his kidney. However the kidney suffered a trauma due to a poorly done kidney biopsy. Back on dialysis, my brother waited a few more years and received the gift of life again from his best friend Joseph. Unfortunately the kidney rejected and Garrett had to go back on dialysis. The story did not have the happiest ending and Garrett passed after complications due to living on dialysis at 30 years old.
    Like yourself, I do the best I can to spread the word about the importance of organ donation. I have helped raise money for specific charities through unique and fun events. I have decided to focus my business in the medical community because I want to give back to the wonderful people who worked so hard to help my brother. I think it is so important to share our stories to get the word out. Thanks

    • Martin Skaates Martin Skaates says:

      Thanks for sharing your story John. Living kidney donors are the heroes in stories like ours. I’m sure that the love your family and friends showed to your brother by donating their kidneys to him really made a positive difference in his life.

  • Melissa Nocero says:

    Amazing story, Marty! Thanks for sharing. I cant imagine how wonderful it feels to be giving someone the ultimate gift of life. Andy is a true hero!

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