+
upworthy
Family

How one woman's selfless kidney donation made her a hero, 7 times over.

They took out Stacey Donovan’s kidney and put it into something that looked like a beer cooler.

An organ transplant cooler in Germany. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

The container appeared better suited for a picnic than an operating room. But in a short time, that cooler — and Donovan’s kidney — would be flying over 1,500 miles to San Diego to meet its new owner.


Her donation would also set off an amazing chain reaction that would change not just one life, but seven.

It all started in 2013 in Prairie Village, Kansas, where Donovan lives with her husband and three rescue dogs.

While reading a science magazine, Donovan came across an article about the immense need for kidney donations. Estimates indicate that 600,000 Americans suffer from kidney failure, a serious and potentially fatal condition. Dialysis is the solution for many, but it can be exhausting. The typical procedure takes four hours at a time, has to be done three times a week, and can cause cramps, headaches, and vomiting.

A close-up of an artificial kidney machine. Image from iStock.

A kidney transplant is usually the only way for patients to be free from dialysis, but kidneys are in short supply. The waiting list is almost 100,000 people long, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. Many people end up waiting for years.

“It just sounded like such a difficult, hard-to-keep-your-hope-up kind of existence,” said Donovan.

Donovan decided to do something most people have probably never considered. She was going to donate a kidney.

A live kidney donation surgery in Birmingham, England. Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

“It wasn’t a difficult choice. I’ve taken more time deliberating whether to grow out my bangs,” she’d later write for XOJane.

But her family, especially her husband, wasn’t so keen on the idea. The surgery itself is pretty safe, but all surgeries come with risks. Plus it’d mean Donovan, with only one kidney, would be taking on a new pre-existing condition.

“The one thing that was reassuring for him, and kind of helped me win the debate, was the Affordable Care Act,” said Donovan. The law's pre-existing condition clause would protect her from rate hikes or denial if she ever needed to buy insurance again in the future.

Family convinced, Donovan contacted the National Kidney Registry, an organization that plays matchmaker for organ donors. For the next four or five months, Donovan went through a battery of checkups, stress tests, and urine analyses to make sure she was healthy enough to donate. She also had to send vials of blood for organ compatibility tests. She said that after enough vials, it became easy to imagine the National Kidney Registry as the front for some very sophisticated vampires.

Eventually they found a match — a man in San Diego.

Donovan had never met the man who would get her kidney. She didn’t even know his name.

Donovan and her husband drove to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis for the surgery. After she woke up, a nurse told her, “Welp, nobody can ever say you never did anything nice for anyone.”

Donovan the day after the surgery. Photo from Stacey Donovan, used with permission.

But Donovan’s kidney was only the start of this story.

Because of Donovan, the San Diego man’s wife decided to pay the good deed forward and donated her own kidney to another unrelated recipient. And that in turn set off another donation. And another. And another. In total, Donovan’s initial donation ended up getting seven different people new kidneys.

It was a lifesaving effort carefully planned by the National Kidney Registry.

When a person needs a kidney, friends and family often try to donate but many find out they’re not compatible. In the past, this would be the end of the story, but starting in the late-1980s, doctors and hospitals realized they could simply swap who gets which kidney. Sometimes, these were simple exchanges, but sometimes a single altruistic donor can set off a chain reaction — a donor like Donovan.

Today, Donovan's back to her old life, though now she's worried others might not be able to follow in her footsteps.

Donovan says lately she’s been worried about what will happen if the Affordable Care Act's pre-existing condition clause is changed or repealed. The safety ensured by that law played a big part in convincing her family that she should donate.

“My main concern with that is what it'll do with the number of donors,” said Donovan.

What'll ultimately happen to the health care law is still unclear. The latest attempt to repeal and replace tries to keep the pre-existing condition clause, but introduces a loophole that’d allow insurers to charge more if a patient has gaps in their coverage record. And it's not clear if this bill will pass Congress.

Troy Zimmerman, vice president of the National Kidney Foundation, said he thinks the doubt around the Affordable Care Act could certainly affect the number of living donors.

Donovan still hasn’t met the man who got her kidney, but she has been able to get a glimpse of what it meant to him and his family.

About a week after the surgery, Donovan ended up getting a special package in the mail.

“I got all these handwritten letters from his family members,” said Donovan. It turned out the man wasn't just somebody's husband — he was a father and grandfather. In the letters, grandkids explained how the man could now go to the beach with them again. He could see them graduate.

The man's wife wrote as well. In her letter, she described life before the donation. It read, "...He's in the back room all the time in pain." But thanks to Donovan's generosity, she said, that pain could fade away.

And after his transplant, it did.

Education

12 books that people say are life-changing reads

Some books have the power to change how we see ourselves, the world, and each other.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Books are powerful.

As a participant in the Amazon Associates affiliate program, Upworthy may earn proceeds from items purchased that are linked to this article, at no additional cost to you.

Out of all human inventions, books might just be the greatest. That may be a bold statement in the face of computers, the internet and the international space station, but none of those things would be possible without books. The written recording of human knowledge has allowed our advancements in learning to be passed on through generations, not to mention the capturing of human creativity in the form of longform storytelling.

Books have the power to change our lives on a fundamental level, shift our thinking, influence our beliefs, put us in touch with our feelings and help us understand ourselves and one another better.

That's why we asked Upworthy's audience to share a book that changed their life. Thousands of responses later, we have a list of inspiring reads that rose to the top.

Keep ReadingShow less
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Things new parents think they need but don't.

There's nothing like preparing for a new baby. The excitement and anticipation take hold and before you know what's happening, your baby registry is five pages long full of things you've probably never heard of. I've been there before, and now, four kids later, I can tell you with absolute certainty that there are tons of things you actually don't need. It's easy to get carried away when everything is so tiny and cute, especially 'cause marketing around baby stuff is bananas. The following offers some alternative items to the ones you'll likely only use a limited number of times before practicality takes over.

Keep ReadingShow less
Joy

Terrified, emaciated dog comes to life as volunteer sits with him for human connection

He tries making himself so small in the kennel until he realizes he's safe.

Terrified dog transforms after human sits with him.

There's something about dogs that makes people just want to cuddle them. They have some of the sweetest faces with big curious eyes that make them almost look cartoonish at times. But not all dogs get humans that want to snuggle up with them on cold nights; some dogs are neglected or abandoned. That's where animal shelters come in, and they work diligently to take care of any medical needs and find these animals loving homes.

Volunteers are essential to animal shelters running effectively to fill in the gaps employees may not have time for. Rocky Kanaka has been volunteering to sit with dogs to provide comfort. Recently he uploaded a video of an extremely emaciated Vizsla mix that was doing his best to make himself as small as possible in the corner of the kennel.

Kanaka immediately wanted to help him adjust so he would feel comfortable enough to eat and eventually get adopted. The dog appeared scared of his new location and had actually rubbed his nose raw from anxiety, but everything changed when Kanaka came along.

Keep ReadingShow less
Internet

Man breaks down how living in an all-inclusive resort is cheaper than his average apartment

"I just might find myself on a beach somewhere sucking down cocktails and WHAT OF IT."

Representative Image from Canva

Are resorts the new retirement homes?

Don’t know if you heard, but the cost of living is pretty high these days. Prices for groceries, restaurants, gas, and other necessary items just to, you know, live in the world, reaching an all time high is already making what used to be a decent wage barely enough to get by.

And let’s not forget the biggest financial whammy of all: rent prices. According to Zillow, the average rent price in the US was $1,958 ( recorded in January 2024). That a whopping 29.4% price jump since pre-pandemic times. And of course, that not even taking larger, more expensive cities into account.


It’s enough to make you wonder: “Is it actually cheaper to just live in an all-inclusive resort at this point?”
Keep ReadingShow less
Family

People kept telling me to watch 'Bluey.' I still was not prepared.

Some adults say it's healing their inner child, but there's something in the popular Australian kids' show for everyone.

"Bluey" is popular with all ages, despite being aimed at kids.

I have a confession to make. I'm 48 years old, my youngest child is in high school and I can't stop watching "Bluey."

For the uninitiated, "Bluey" is a kids' cartoon from Australia aimed at 5 to 7-year-olds. It's been nearly a decade since my household has seen that demographic, so when people kept telling me I should watch "Bluey," my reaction was basically, "Yeah, I've already done my kiddie show time, thankyouverymuch."

Then my almost-15-year-old started watching it just to see what the fuss was about. And as I started tuning in, I saw why people love it so much. I figured it was going to be a wholesome show with some good lessons for kids, and it is.

But it's also laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Keep ReadingShow less
Identity

Video shows 80 years of subtle sexism in 2 minutes

Subtle, persistent sexism over a lifetime is like water torture.

via HuffPo

Condescending sexism is persistently cliché.

Subtle, condescending sexist remarks such as "When are you going to have children?" and "You'd be so pretty, if you tried" are heard by women on a daily basis. Like water torture, what's subtle and persistent can become debilitating over a lifetime.

Making things more difficult is the contradicting nature of many sexist clichés that women are subjected to starting in childhood, such as "Is that all you're going to eat?" and "You eat a lot for a girl." Then there are the big-time, nuclear bomb sexist remarks such as "Don't be a slut" and "What were you wearing that night?" that are still shockingly common as well.

Keep ReadingShow less