Blog post

Three things I was not expecting when I donated my kidney

It was just the right thing to do, but through it all, I learned some lessons along the way.
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People often call living organ donors heroes, but I was not looking to wear a superhero cape. Instead, I wanted to give my friend another chance at life. It is an odd feeling to know that one organ in your body can completely change another person's life, which is why I was so fortunate to be a perfect match for my friend Matt Fulgieri, who needed a lifesaving kidney donation back in 2007. Donating my kidney was no heroic act. It was just the right thing to do, but through it all, I learned some lessons along the way.

Donating a kidney has a huge emotional effect on a donor's family.

From day one, my wife, Maryellen, was extremely supportive of my decision. Neither of us could bear to watch this disease take our friend Matt, "the family man," away from his wife and kids. Being a father myself, I could not even imagine my girls growing up without me cheering them on from the sidelines of their soccer games, taking an embarrassing number of pictures at their high school prom or walking them down the aisle at their wedding. It really put things in perspective for both me and Maryellen when we thought about what life would be like for Matt's children to grow up without their dad, which is one of the reasons it was such an easy decision for me to get tested.

After receiving the news that I was a perfect match, I could not stop beaming, knowing that my kidney could give Matt a second chance at life. Oddly enough, I was not nervous for the entirety of time leading up to the surgery, but in the back of my mind I always worried about the risks associated with the surgery since I have a family of my own.

The morning of my surgery, Maryellen began to express concern about all the "what ifs" that could go wrong during surgery. I reassured her that everything would be okay, and looking back, I now realize I did not fully understand the multitude of emotions that she was experiencing as I prepared to undergo kidney transplant surgery. As I was carted down the hallway towards surgery with Maryellen's hand in mine, she broke down crying, barely getting out the words to say she was afraid of losing me.

So, while it is an individual's right to choose living organ donation, I learned that your personal decision can have a profound effect on your family members as well, so it is important to be open with each other from the beginning. I am extremely thankful to have constant support from my wife and daughters, but as a family united, we all carry the weight of each other's decisions. 

You cannot learn everything you need to know online; you have to talk to others who have been there.

I donated my kidney in 2007, and although the internet was not exactly new, I was able to learn a lot about kidney donation. I made sure to do my homework online, researching what to expect, how to prepare for a big surgery and how long it would take to recover. I thought I was pretty well informed and prepared to go through with my donation.

But then my transplant team put me in touch with someone who had already been through the surgery and that is when I learned some things that made me a little nervous. For example, he recommended I stop drinking coffee weeks before the surgery so I would not have coffee withdrawal headaches after. I am a New Yorker so that automatically means I love coffee and I did not like the thought of cutting it out of my daily routine. All joking aside, that was one of the best pieces of advice I received because by the time surgery day rolled around, I had already weaned myself off coffee, meaning no headaches for me during post-surgery recovery.

You will have some unexpected bumps in the road after surgery.

Throughout the entire process of donating my kidney, the doctors and nurses were excellent, explaining what I should expect to feel post-surgery and reassuring me that recovery would not take all that long. I was ready to go home after three days, but after leaving the hospital, there were some bumps along the way.

While taking a hot shower shortly after I got home, I felt faint and knew something was wrong. I ended up passing out and later woke up to paramedics standing over me, explaining that I had fainted but would be okay. It turns out that taking a hot shower decreased my core body temperature and because my body was already in a more fragile state from surgery, I passed out.

I am not going to lie; it was scary to pass out from doing something so normal like taking a shower. After that, I made sure to be very careful no matter what I was doing and ended up having a great recovery process, going back to work only eight days after surgery.

All these years later I am in excellent health and I am extremely thankful to have been given the chance to help a friend who needed a second chance at life.


Rick Bellando

Rick Bellando is chief operating officer of Okeha Castle in Huntington, New York. For his selfless act of donating a kidney, he is being honored at the American Kidney Fund’s 2019 New York Golf Classic.