Meghan Gardner had two healthy kidneys. She decided to donate one of them to a recipient she has never met.
And she doesn’t want you to feel guilty if you’re not inclined to follow her example — because “if we want to help, we all can help, and in ways that fit our skill sets and our capacity. You can make a difference.”
“It’s not about me,” said the 26-year Bedford resident. “Of course, I want to reach people who would consider. But even if you are not the person to donate a kidney, you can donate money or time, because that’s what makes us human.”
“Not everybody has health, not everybody wants to go through an elective surgery. Anybody who chooses not to do this has their own reasons,” she said. “For me I couldn’t see a reason to not do it. To me it was actually a very logical decision.”
“Especially right now, the pandemic has taken such a cost on us and our humanity,” Gardner continued. “It’s really hard to remain human in an inhumane environment. But we do that by reaching out and connecting with each other.”
What sparked her unusual gift? “I had an employee who needed a kidney, so I decided to get tested. It turned out we were a match all the way down to the last test.” That’s when they discovered a difference in arterial branches.
The National Kidney Registry oversees a “rigorous amount of testing, and they won’t take your kidney if there’s any concern at all about a negative impact. So, I decided to donate to whoever was next in line.”
“I chose to be anonymous so no one has to carry a burden of gratitude,” she explained. “Enough people donate that I would like to be lost in the shuffle.” Gardner won’t even approximate the date of the donation because she doesn’t want to risk losing its anonymity.
Before arranging the surgery, Kidney Registry officials wanted Gardner to meet with a psychologist “to make sure I was not doing this for the wrong reasons. After 10 minutes he decided I was in a healthy state of mind.”
The psychologist asked her to explain her rationale, and she told him, “I am volunteering to go through a procedure where I will experience manageable pain from one to two months, and then have pretty much the same lifestyle and the same life expectancy. I get to do everything I normally do – and I am saving a life. So my question to you is: Why not do this?”
As the founder and proprietor of the educational experiences business Guardian Adventures, “I was in a situation where I could take time off,” she related. “I owned a company with a supporting team that was self-managed.”
The surgery took place at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, from where “they can literally ship your kidney across the country.” Gardner said she asked not to be informed of any details about the patient – including whether the transplant succeeded.
“Within a month, I felt as if nothing was different in my body,” Gardner said. “I felt glad that I was probably able to save a life.”
The Kidney Registry offers many “safeguards” to reassure donors of their future welfare. “They give you a great deal of attention before and after. If anything happens to my remaining kidney, I am placed at the top of the donation list, a fast pass to the front. And since I am doing this anonymously, I could fill out a form bumping up anyone in my family. And if anything goes wrong, for the rest of my life it’s covered under this program.”
As an aside, she pointed out that “you can actually donate a portion of your liver to save a life — and it will grow back.”
Gardner said her approach to the unusual donation reflects her background. “I was a lifeguard when I was younger, and I actually saved lives.” Then there was the time in California when, while driving by, “I pulled a man out of a burning truck. I left before the cops arrived; I had an important appointment.”
Her resume also features many years of first-aid training, as well as in cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Now she teaches the instructors of those skills. “All this emergency response is highly ingrained, so I’m not a person who stops to think about something like that.”
“A lot of people see a car get into an accident, see people stopping, and then we leave. I don’t,” Gardner said. “If I see something, I am going to stop. It’s just who I am. I have a high threshold for fear.”
She talked about her experiences as a hospice volunteer. “I have seen suffering. I have seen what happens to people who die of kidney failure. It can be difficult to sit in that presence.”
“One of the things that really made this operation so manageable for me was the support group I have — friends and family,” said Gardner, “People lined up to drop off meals, people sent care packages, and emotional support. The neat thing about that is that through a ripple effect, people had the impact of saving a life through supporting me. If you rally around people, you are making a difference.”