Kim Constantinesco: Kidney donations still needed in a time of pandemic

When so much life is being lost, I wanted to give life to someone.

I donated my kidney to a stranger at the tail end of 2020. In a year when so much life was lost, I wanted to give life.

My donation came at a time when other donors might not have had the capacity to “share their spare” for one reason or another: a fear of a major surgery during a global pandemic, a lost job or the heavy demands of 24/7 childcare.

However, COVID-19 or no COVID-19, people still need kidneys, and I was fortunate to be able to donate.

According to Donate Life, more than 90,000 people in the United States are waiting for a kidney donation. People on the transplant list need either dialysis or a new kidney in order to stay alive. And, people who receive a kidney transplant live twice as long on average compared to those who remain on dialysis.

Dialysis is a huge time commitment, requiring about three treatments a week that last for three to five hours at a time. 2020 robbed us all of so much freedom, but people on dialysis experience this lack of freedom nearly every day.

People who need kidneys may receive one from a deceased donor or from a living donor. A kidney that comes from a living donor provides numerous benefits, including less time spent on the transplant list, an organ that works immediately upon transplant almost twice as often and better long term health outcomes.

For me, the choice to donate was easy. The short-term risks are on par with childbirth or undergoing surgery for a burst appendix, which was a risk I was willing to take in order to save a life.

Living donors, whether or not they know their recipients, come from all walks of life. I learned about living kidney donation from a women’s college basketball coach who donated to a stranger in Ohio.

As I was going through the testing process, I met a 70-year-old man who donated his kidney to someone he didn’t know at the age of 65.

Hours after surgery, a 19-year-old woman who only spoke Arabic was rolled into my recovery room as my roommate. She had just donated to her mother.

Weeks later, I was introduced to a 21-year-old who gave his kidney to someone at the age of 18. Inspired by the donation, his mother followed in her son’s footsteps and became a donor herself.

All of this means that there’s a world in which kidney donation is ordinary and routine. It’s ready to be elevated into the mainstream beyond a “feel good” story in a local paper.

Donating an organ is obviously a much larger ordeal than donating blood. But, not long ago, donating blood to a stranger was considered unconventional and even dangerous. Perhaps, kidney donation—along with wearing a mask, washing hands and getting a vaccine—will follow the same path and be embraced as a traditional life-saving act.

As for my attempted life-saving act, it’s still in the works. My kidney went to Jamal Shuriah, a 32-year-old Broadway performer. In a rare series of events, the organ clotted and died four days after surgery. The chance of it being rejected in the way that it was so soon after surgery was between .5 percent and 1 percent.

Jamal Shuriah

But, the show must go on. Jamal, and so many others like him, still need kidneys. While we can’t share hugs or handshakes right now, we can share kidneys. And, in the process, we can give what really matters: hope for a better life.

Kim Constantinesco

Kim Constantinesco was born and raised in Salt Lake City. She now resides in New York City, where she works in digital health, writes children’s books and runs long distances even three weeks after donating a kidney.

To learn more about living kidney donation and Jamal’s story, visit www.findjamalakidney.com.