Becoming a Living Organ Donor
A Path to Recovery and Meaning
The first step in determining Lindsey Jarrett’s eligibility to donate a kidney to her friend’s father was a psychiatric evaluation. Did she know the donation would not benefit her? Did she understand the risks? Was she being coerced?
Many people might wonder what motivates a person to donate an organ to a recipient with whom they have no familial or close relationship.
Like many decisions in health and healthcare, Lindsey’s answer is complicated, rooted in her values and the life experiences that shaped them.
Lindsey, 39, encountered her first opportunity to become a living donor in 2019. Her former high school teacher and later close friend needed a liver transplant to treat a rapidly advancing cancer. Lindsey started the donation process. Unfortunately, her friend was removed from the transplant list because the cancer spread, and she died shortly after that.
Still, for Lindsey, the seed was planted to give something of herself in this way. Lack of success in donating blood despite having a universal blood type had been frustrating. A PTSD episode stemming from a memory of sexual assault as a young girl in the Fall of 2019 crystalized her thinking. She began to see the gift of organ donation as a path to meaning and recovery.
She writes about this journey in response to a family member’s questions.
“In 2020, I had a hard time imagining that I would ever feel whole with my body. I felt like my body had been taken from me and ever since then I have either used it as a weapon or hated every inch of it.
“I have never had control over my body and in 2021 I made a commitment to love my body and find ways to be powerful and joyful with my body. I’m still working on it – as recovery is a grueling process. But with this gift of organ donation I am using my body to extend life and I am feeling such a similar excitement as I felt when I chose to create Eva [Lindsey’s seven-year old daughter] with my body.”
From Loss to Life
The thoughts and emotions behind Lindsey’s decision to donate her kidney arose from other losses as well. Her father has Parkinson’s and she has lost three friends around her age to breast cancer.
“I know I’m inserting risk on my body that may be unnecessary,” she said, “but for me life isn’t about how long my life means something but what my life means when I am here.”
Responding to the death of her mother-in-law, Lindsey wrote, “I wish I could have given something from my body when so many that I have loved died from horrible illnesses, and now I have a chance to keep someone on this earth for a bit longer so they can share more joy and love with the ones who love them.”
Thus, in 2021, when Lindsey’s friend’s friend posted on Facebook about his father’s need for a kidney donor, Lindsey began the step-by-step organ donor evaluation process at Indiana University Health. From an emotional standpoint, she said, knowing that she didn’t have to make a final commitment until the end of the process was helpful.
The date was set for surgery on November 19, 2021, in Indianapolis, the recipient’s hometown. Lindsey’s mom and dad, after much conversation, were on board with the plan. Grandma, a woman of prayer, was doing her thing. Lindsey described Eva, a lover of TV medical shows, as “clinically curious.”
The last step before leaving was to read Eva a book that the living donor coordinator had provided to prepare children for a parent donating a kidney.
A PhD in Therapeutic Science from the University of Kansas, Lindsey describes her upbringing infused with an “altruistic ideology.”
“People don’t have to prove something to me,” she said, “to give something to them.”