Name: Dylan Matthews
City/Town: Newark, New Jersey
Current Age: 28
Date of Donation: August 22, 2016
Hospital and Location: Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland
Did you know your recipient?
I did not; it was a non-directed donation. When I donated, I didn't have any expectation of meeting or talking to my recipient. I didn't want him to feel like he owed me anything or force a relationship he didn't necessarily want. But my recipient did wind up reaching out, and we emailed a bit. It was great to connect that way.
What made you decide to donate?
I’d wanted to give a kidney for years—at least since I first heard it was possible after reading Larissa MacFarquhar’s New Yorker piece on “good Samaritan” kidney donors when I was in college. It seemed like a simple way to help someone else, through a procedure that’s very low-risk to me. I studied moral philosophy as an undergrad, and there’s a famous thought experiment about a man who walks by a shallow pond where a child is drowning and does nothing because leaping in to save the child might muddy his clothes.
If I kept walking around with two kidneys, when there were more than 100,000 people on the kidney waitlist who would most likely die in the next five years if they didn’t get one, was I doing anything different from that man, really? Wasn’t I, like him, letting another person die to avoid a small cost to myself?
I had it in my head as a kind of abstract goal for years, but I kept putting off the donation. I couldn’t do it in college since I couldn’t take time off from exams and papers. I didn’t want to do it in my summers, when I was interning in Washington, DC. It just seemed like such an extravagant step to take, one that I couldn’t find time for.
Then I became friends with people who’d donated kidneys; they made me feel like it was a real possibility, and something I could fit into a normal career.
Was it a tough decision?
It was tough because I knew it imposed costs on people close to me. My dad and girlfriend took time off work, and I know my mother was very worried about the possibility of something going wrong. And scheduling the actual procedure, as a political reporter in an election year, was tough. But I never really doubted that I was doing the right thing.
What were your biggest concerns about donating?
I was concerned about burdening people close to me, and about taking time off work. I didn’t really anticipate the physical pain of recovery, and so that didn’t figure heavily when I was thinking about the donation ahead of time.
How did your family and friends react when you told them you were going to donate?
I’ve always had a tendency to embrace idiosyncratic moral projects, so I think most people who knew me thought it was fairly in character. My parents were nervous for my safety and wanted to be sure I was thinking it through. But ultimately they were very supportive and did a lot to support me through my recovery.
How did your surgery go?
The surgery itself had no complications and occurred quickly and easily. I had a great relationship with my surgeon.
What was your recovery like while you were in the hospital?
While I stayed an extra day beyond what I was anticipating, the recovery was fairly uneventful. It’s definitely uncomfortable. The gas pain from the carbon dioxide used in the procedure is real, and you wake up from the procedure in a state of profound thirst and hunger, which you can’t really address since your digestive system isn’t ready to handle food yet. But every day was half as tough as the day before, until eventually, about two weeks afterward, I was feeling basically back to normal.
What was your recovery like at home?
I had some GI issues when I first went home and had to acclimate to a normal diet slowly. But I improved rapidly and wasn’t very uncomfortable for the week I took off at home.
What was the most difficult part of recovery?
The initial gas pain and abdominal pain from the surgery is definitely the worst part. But it goes away very quickly.
When did you return to work?
I started work again two weeks after the surgery.
How long was the process from making the first contact about donating until your surgery?
The process with the transplant center took about five months from start to finish. I started working with Johns Hopkins in March, finished my evaluations in mid-May, and was approved in June, before waiting another two months for a preoperative appointment and then the ultimate surgery. It wasn’t too annoying, and I only had to make three visits to Johns Hopkins before the surgery.
Is there anything about being a kidney donor that's surprised you?
Kidney disease is very common, and many if not most people know at least one family member or friend who has had to deal with it, the same way most people know a diabetic or cancer survivor. Hearing those stories from friends, even distant acquaintances from college, was really meaningful to me, and I don’t think I would’ve understood how profoundly the illness affects the whole world without donating.
Would you do it again?
I wish I could—my girlfriend has told me I can’t do a liver donation, though ☺