Donating A Kidney To A Stranger

Hendrik- You’re donating your kidney to– A stranger. Right. I think the coolest part about donating a kidney to a stranger is I may have absolutely nothing in common with my recipient. Organ transplants cross racial divides, social divides, political divides. It’s such a visceral reminder of how we really are completely the same.

That is a gift. My name’s Hendrik Gerrits. In a week and a half, I’m going to be giving my kidney to a complete stranger. I’m 37. I’m a long distance runner, a recent rock climber, and the father of two beautiful girls.

My wife, Lumin, is a painter. I’ve lived in two places in my life, Wyoming and New York.

I just remember traveling home on the subway. I, probably like a lot of Americans, was getting pretty overwhelmed with the news. And I just felt like I was in this rut.

And I heard this amazing story from this woman Christine Gentry on one of my favorite podcasts called Risk! And she found out that by donating her kidney, she could set off a chain of donations. And I just remember it was one of those crying-on-the-subway moments as you heard this story. I was overwhelmed by the power of the story but also just immediately felt like, that’s my thing. I knew I could do it.

We are eight days away from my operation, and I’m here to meet for the first time with Dr. Del Pizzo, who will be my surgeon. I’m really excited about that. I am trying to imagine that this is something like a race day scenario.

I need to be able to visualize what it’s going to be like, what the recovery is going to be like.

But I feel like I’m going in to meet with my coach. Hi, how are you? Dr. Del Pizzo. Joe Del Pizzo, good to see you.

Nice to meet you. Welcome. Thanks. Have a seat. Thanks I have a couple of questions for you.

OK. You’re donating your kidney to– —a stranger. Right. So you’re an altruistic donor. So thank you for doing that.

Yeah. We are going to use your left kidney for the donation. OK. Your left kidney. OK.

Both of your kidneys work exactly the same. Your body’s not going to miss one more than the other. OK. And the surgery is done through one little incision in your belly button.

It’s called laparoendoscopic single-site surgery.

Your body won’t recognize that you have one kidney versus two. OK. And it won’t adversely affect the rest of your life in any way. If it did, we wouldn’t let you or anyone else donate their kidney. Yeah.

You’re not only helping the person who’s getting your kidney on the 19th, but that person is going to come off the list of people waiting for a kidney in the country, and everyone else on the list is going to move up. Yeah. So you are helping thousands of people. So you’re already part of a huge team.


OK. All right? Well, thanks so much. Good to meet you. Looking forward to it.

Thanks again for everything, OK? Yeah, OK. I’ll see you soon. OK, see you. A non-directed kidney donor is someone like myself who just wants to help someone in need.

The power of that gift is that I’m giving a kidney, but don’t need a kidney in return. And what that can do is unlock all of this potential in the paired donor exchange. So there are all of these pairs floating out there, but the difficulty is matching them up. I found out that they found my match, and she’s a 20-year-old woman who lives on the East Coast. And it’s just very overwhelming.

As an non-directed donor you very much have to be prepared to not meet your recipient. I can only imagine the difficulties that she must be going through now. Not only that, but she has a hero in her own life who’s donating a kidney on her behalf so that she can receive my kidney. ┬áDialysis is not an easy thing for sure.


You’re very tired, lethargic all the time.

It does take a toll. Just, you’re so tired. So I hook up to this every night for nine, nine and half hours a night. My name is Kali, I’m 21 years old. Depending on what time she has to leave in the morning is what time she has to hook up at night.

At six months old, my doctor diagnosed me with nephrotic syndrome. And at five years old, I ended up on dialysis. And at six years old, I received a kidney transplant from a deceased donor.

In February 2017, they started to realize my kidney was rejecting. By October, I was back on dialysis.

I had to put my dreams on hold and I had to stop going to school. They said that it was going to be a pretty hard match. On a scale of 0 to 100 antibody scale, with 100 being you’re a really hard match, they said I was 99. The doctors told me I should definitely share my story to just get the word out. And see if there are people that would want to be a donor.

Tracy, my friend of five years, came forward.

I stepped forward to become a donor so that I could try to help Kali and give her the life that she deserves. Even though I’m not a direct match for Kali, I am a match for somebody out there. Hendrik is giving his kidney to Kali, and Tracy, who really wanted to give her a kidney but wasn’t a match, gave it to someone else. And if that person who got a kidney also has someone who is willing to donate for them, there’s another kidney that’s still out there that goes to another person.

And that’s how a chain develops. So this kind of pay it forward mentality. It’s a win-win situation, because by stepping forward as a donor, I’m able to help Kali.

And at that same time, I’m helping a complete stranger who’s also in dire need of a kidney. Tomorrow I’ll be receiving a kidney from a complete stranger.

I’m so grateful. I just can’t wait. [UPBEAT MUSIC] It is November 19, it’s about 7:00 AM. And I’m about to donate my left kidney. This is Urethra Franklin The Second, who’s named after Christine Gentry’s kidney, who’s the woman who inspired my story.

I really hope that this kidney goes on to a very fruitful life for a long time. So– I think that 15 minute period right beforehand is kind of the scariest moment. Because the reality of the situation sets in. But then I felt a sense of calm. And I felt like I’d prepared myself for some of those nerves and fear.

20 years ago, in order to donate your kidney, you had to have a major operation. The whole point of developing the minimally invasive technique, which we’ve taken a step further at NewYork-Presbyterian Weill Cornell, was to decrease the disincentives for healthy people to donate their kidney. You guys ready to do a surgical time out? You make a 3 inch incision in the bellybutton area. Starting– And through that incision goes a small device where you can put instruments through.

And one of those instruments is a camera that then projects onto a large high-definition screen.

You basically remove the kidney from all its attachments except for the blood supply and the ureter, which is the small tube that carries urine from your kidney down to your bladder. Unbeknownst to Hendrik, Kali was getting her transplant in the next room. And Tracy was in the hospital as well. There were basically three simultaneous surgeries going on.

Hendrik’s kidney was removed, then that was taken across and given to Dr. Sultan. [MUSIC PLAYING] He starts the recipient surgery, and I’m back in Hendrik’s room finishing up the surgery. The third surgery that day was when Tracy’s kidney was harvested and was safely and successfully removed to be flown to another hospital in the country to use in another recipient as part of the paired exchange. When I woke up from anesthesia, groggily I remember my mom and my wife’s face.

And they said everything had gone well, but even better, they said that my recipient was at the hospital. And that she really wanted to meet me. It was incredibly emotional. I was very excited. It was a dream scenario, really.

Hi. [PIANO MUSIC] How are you? Really good. [LAUGHTER] I have a letter for you.


Yeah. Did you get my letter? Yes. Yeah. Yeah, read it after I was conscious that day, so.

Yeah. Yeah. You feeling good? Feeling better? Really good.

Great. Really good. I took good care of it, it’s a good kidney. They said it took so quick. Never seen– Good.

–a kidney work so quick. Good. Yeah. That’s great. So.

I’m so happy for you. Sounds like you got so much in front of you. Yeah. And my– Got a whole new life. Yeah.

Because I was on the deceased donor list at my local hospital, and they said it was going to be at least six to seven years. Whoa. So– That’s too long. Yeah. Yeah.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. I mean, we don’t even know how– Yeah. –to thank you.

Yeah. It’s just been a really long journey. I bet. Yeah, the number one thing is freedom. I’m going to have more freedom.

I was completely overwhelmed. And I think unprepared for the feeling of meeting a complete stranger with whom you feel such a visceral connection.

I didn’t know the first thing about her, but I felt intensely invested in her well-being. Hi I’m Kali’s mom. Hi.

Thank you. You’re welcome. Nice to meet you. Thanks.Thank you.

And you’re right there in writing, you are Mr. Wonderful. Thank you. It’s December 18, almost a month after my surgery. And we are about to go meet with Dr.

Sultan. Over the past month, I’ve been feeling incredible. From the day I had my surgery up until now, it’s just been night and day. I feel great, I have so much more energy. And I can eat what I want and drink what I want, which is incredible.

How are you? So, how’s it going? Amazing. It was pretty striking how quickly the creatinine came down. I’ve never seen something like that.

The kidney cleans your blood and clears out the creatinine. So the lower the creatinine the better. So this is going all the way back when I first saw you in February. And then this is right before the transplant. And then really immediately after the transplant, it was already down to 10.

And that’s within an hour or so. And then by the next morning it’s way down. And that’s just a sign that your kidney has been working like a normal person. Already you’ve kind of dropped below the blue, which is normal. So you’re better than normal.

Wow. The donor’s kidney function was really quite excellent.

Thank you. Dialysis is behind her. She has no chances of needing dialysis any time soon.

It’s heartwarming to see someone so young get a new chance on life. It’s a funny thing to say, but I was very happy to have given her such a good one. Immediately after my kidney donation, I experienced a complication that happens less than 1% of the time. I had to undergo a second surgery to correct the issue. After the second surgery, my recovery was really quite quick.

Four to six weeks after surgery, I was able to go to the climbing gym again and start climbing with Liv and Lumin. And that’s just been wonderful. Everyone should have the chance to live, and to live a full life. It’s not just their life, but the other lives they touch or create. It’s absolutely overwhelming to have the honor to even be a small part of making that possible.

Riding the New York City subways has been a profoundly different experience for me lately. I just don’t see strangers as strangers anymore.

It’s quite a gift.

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