Donate Life: Kirsten's Kidney Donor Story

Kirsten Stopher has spent much of her life putting her parents' lessons of service and caring for people to work. The 28-year-old Lima, Ohio, resident says they fostered a spirit of giving that led her to volunteer at a teen crisis center, earn a degree in social work, and after graduation, spend a year living and working in a French homeless shelter.

Until August 2016 when she began work on her master's in social work, she spent 2½ years developing a program to help survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. In July 2016, a radio commercial about being a live organ donor led her to give in one more way.

"I was driving and heard the commercial on the radio," recalls Kirsten. "I always give blood when I can but had never thought about being a live donor."

That ad set the ball in motion. A Google search led her to the National Kidney Registry and a request for information about living kidney donation. Just three weeks later, Kirsten was headed to The Christ Hospital to meet with the kidney transplant team and begin testing. She underwent a complete physical, including blood tests, a Pap smear, an EKG and CT scan, to determine if she was healthy enough to donate.

In November, Kirsten got the good news that she was approved. She worked with Tricia Monson, RN, a transplant donor advocate at The Christ Hospital Health Network, to iron out the details.

Kirsten needed the surgery scheduled over her holiday break so she didn't miss school during the four- to six-week recovery. She also had the option to specify the type of person she would like to receive the kidney.

"I asked that it go to someone around my age," she says. "I thought about what it would be like for someone my age to be on dialysis. Getting a kidney would be life-changing. Knowing it could give someone on average another 20 years and not be tied down was really special to me."

Throughout the testing and waiting process, Kirsten focused on her own health. She used a variety of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies, including chiropractic alignment, energy medicine, yoga, meditation and eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR) to help her prepare and recover.

"I wanted to do whatever I could to make sure it was a good donation and that I recovered well," she says.

From her perspective, that focus played a large part in being able to say "Let's do it!" with no hesitation when she got the call at the end of November. There was a young woman who was a good match.

"I had no doubts. I knew I was healthy, mentally sound and stable," says Kirsten. "I was overjoyed to do it."

She says her experience with The Christ Hospital Health Network transplant program helped too.

"Everyone was, in one word, amazing," she says. "I was calling Tricia with questions I thought were probably trivial, but she was so supportive and made sure I had whatever I needed."

Her recovery after the three-hour surgery on December 13 was one more confirmation.

Within hours of the surgery, Kirsten was walking laps in the hallway. She went home the next day, and 2½ weeks later, she was on vacation swimming with sea turtles in the Bahamas.

Kirsten admits to struggling a little after the surgery—feeling like being a live organ donor was her only identity.

"Once people learned I had donated, that was the only thing we had to talk about," she says. "I felt like I was tooting my own horn, but that wasn't why I did it."

But that feeling was short-lived.

"Why I donated has evolved from thinking it was cool that I could give something to, over time, feeling more like I was led to do it," she says. "I haven't heard from my recipient, and that's OK. It was a great experience; I wouldn't have changed a thing."

Want to learn more about living kidney donation? Find answers to frequently asked questions, or call our kidney transplant team at 513-585-2493.

Kirsten is pictured above sharing her story at our Donate Life Month kick-off celebration on April 7.