Tattoos and donations: honoring a living kidney donation experience
There is an inspiring story behind the eye-catching ink on April Benefield's forearm. The tattoo of bright, colorful flowers surrounding the outline of a kidney commemorates her decision to become a living kidney donor.
April did a nondirected donation, gifting her kidney to a stranger. However, this was not the original plan. April first decided to donate her kidney when her high school friend, Cyndi Williams, shared on Facebook that her sister-in-law Carol needed a new kidney. Before April could contact her friend to volunteer, though, she posted that Carol had found one already.
"My initial thought was, 'Whew! Dodged that one!'" April recalled. "Then two years later, she posted again. The original kidney was rejected, and [Carol] needed one again. I jumped at the chance to help. When God leads you to do something, it's best to listen."
April then underwent the necessary testing to see if she was a match for Carol. Unfortunately, she was not. "We decided to do the paired exchange," said April. "Sadly, [Carol's] health declined, and she was taken off the donation list. After talking with her, I decided to donate to a stranger to get her a voucher."
Voucher programs are a relatively new concept, pioneered by UCLA in 2014 and now used by a number of transplant centers in the U.S. The voucher program is designed for family members or friends who cannot donate to their loved one or whose loved one does not need a transplant at that moment but will one day need one. Through the program, they can donate a kidney to a stranger to receive a voucher that will give their loved one priority status when the time comes for their transplant. Unlike a paired donation, this allows families to donate to help their loved ones when the loved one is not yet ready for their transplant.
So, in August 2020, April donated her kidney to a stranger to help Carol get her kidney transplant later.
"It was odd, knowing he/she was on the same floor with me while I was in the hospital, but I still didn't know their identity," said April. "It is better in some ways and worse in others. If the kidney did not work well for the recipient, I'd rather not know. But I also don't get to see progress either."
April still has not met her recipient but has let her transplant coordinator know that she is open to it if the recipient is.
Although it might be a difficult decision for some to donate an organ to a stranger, April said it was an easy one for her. "It took all of two minutes to decide," she said. "My thought was, I was ready to donate to someone, let's do it."
Unfortunately, April was unable to meet her goal to help Carol receive another kidney. Carol's health continued to decline and in December 2021, she passed away before she could use the voucher from April's surgery.
Despite this, April has no regrets about her decision to donate. "I'm not a calm person usually, but I was super calm in my decision," she explained. "The whole process, I knew this was something I was supposed to do. I'm so glad I didn't let fear of the unknown stop me."
In addition to her tattoo, April and her husband, Bryan, commemorated her experience with a donation to AKF.
"My husband and I get together each quarter to decide where our tithe will go," explained April. "We wanted to do something kidney related. We researched and liked what we saw."
AKF's research, education and advocacy efforts stood out as particularly noteworthy to the couple, and they also appreciated AKF's stewardship of donations, April said.
"The fact that 97 cents of every dollar goes to the cause is big! No wasted dollars at AKF."
Learn more about becoming a living kidney donor on AKF's website.
If you are interested in supporting AKF's mission, please consider making a donation today.