The power of love leads a Seattle woman to donate a kidney so her partner, who needs one, can move up in the donor list.
Take a break from politics, partisan rancor and fretting over the failures of our government and the aim of North Korea.
Let me tell you a love story.
There once was a little girl as beautiful as she was fierce. She was a go-to playmaker for Redmond area softball and basketball teams for years and placed second in the 3200-meter at state. To girls she coached, she was enchanting as a Disney princess, only a really bad-ass one, like Princess Leia.
Find out more about organ donation
About 118,000 people are waiting for an organ transplant nationally, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.
Often, an organ becomes available for transplant when a person dies and had agreed to be a donor — or the family agrees to donate their loved one’s organs.
People have two kidneys but need only one, so living donors are more common for that kind of transplant.
Rarely, living donors can donate a lung, or part of one, or part of a liver.
In 2016, almost 6,000 transplants were made possible by living donors, according to the UNOS website.
For more information:
• About the Swedish Organ Transplant Center, go to: http://www.swedish.org/services/organ-transplant-program
• About UNOS, go to: https://www.unos.org/donation/living-donation/
Kiersten Knutson grew up to be a public servant in King County’s juvenile-justice system, a probation counselor holding troubled kids accountable during their supervision. She married. She divorced. Came close again but didn’t. A romantic’s high standards left her on her ownsome with her dogs.
She met a man while both were working part-time in ticketing for The Seattle Mariners. A public servant too, Kyle Killebrew worked for the state, cracking down on child-support scofflaws. They loved sports and camping.
“I’m crazy about this guy,” she confided to me, her sister, not long after they started dating.
Eventually, the restlessness in her started to settle. She had no perfectionist complaints about her partner’s shortcomings or faults. This could be love.
Kyle got sick. After years of not feeling well, he was diagnosed with renal failure. For the last 3½ years, he spent chunks of every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday in a recliner getting dialysis at Northwest Kidney Center. And he went on the list waiting for a kidney.
Kiersten loved this man and cheerfully cooked up renal-friendly food for family potlucks. She talked about the possibility of being a living donor, of giving a kidney of her own, and was surprised at Kyle’s reticence to accept. She was tested; she didn’t match. There were other arrangements that could be made — something called a “paired donation.” If she agreed to donate a kidney to someone, that would increase the opportunities for her loved one to get a kidney and be closer to freedom.
Kyle told her no. “That’s too much,” he said. He would wait.
Love grew. They moved in together. And Kiersten kept thinking about losing this man and the life they were building. Finally, in the last year, on her own, she initiated the testing, the counseling and made the decision. She donated her left kidney July 3 at Swedish Medical Center to an unknown patient in another operating room. Kyle received a kidney a week earlier from a benevolent donor, a living person who volunteered a kidney.
Kiersten and Kyle now are recuperating together in their Fremont home making frequent trips for medical appointments, and their fitness shuffles are slowly becoming fitness walks.
All along as this question hung in the air, I teased my sister mercilessly — as I have her whole life — kind of joking and kind of serious. That’s a big commitment.
“If he wants a kidney, he needs to put a ring on it,” I would say, humming the rest of the Beyoncé tune badly. At family gatherings, I would slip up behind her and lift her blouse and inspect for scars. “Just checking,” I would say, dodging the slap of her buffet plate. “You’re not getting married because we are all Huskies and he went to Washington State, right?” “Kix, what if I need a kidney some day?” I would ask. Finally, she noted our blood types were incompatible and that I was barking up the wrong kidney donor.
And, in May, after the transplant wheels started turning, I might have sent an obnoxious text directly to her man, wondering about the nuptials. My significant-other-not-in-law good-naturedly texted me back something vague about the tortoise and the hare. He added diamond rings and Champagne emojis just to tease me!
You gotta love the guy. And we do — except during the Apple Cup.
The Sunday night before her surgery, my husband, son and I called my sister to wish her well. We had her on speaker, and I couldn’t help myself. I brought up the marriage thing again. Jokingly, of course.
“Geez, Kate, we’ve been a little distracted with this whole renal-failure thing.”
Point well taken.
My sister knows what she wants and is willing to put not only some skin in the game — but a whole kidney. Her act of selflessness is not only admirable but dauntingly impressive.
Married or not, it is an object lesson in the power of love.