April 28, 2023

Living kidney donor commits to hiking entire Ice Age Trail in 2023

A spring in her step, even without a kidney

MADISON, Wis. – These days, Jean Adams is always on the move: packing gear, checking maps and plotting her next hike.

At the end of 2022, the 59-year-old retiree set the goal of hiking the entire Ice Age Trail in 2023 to show what a kidney donor can accomplish.

This is not the first backpacking tour for Adams, either.

“A year into the pandemic, I got pretty stir-crazy,” she said. “So, I set out to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail.”

She spent four weeks on the trail in 2020, fulfilling a dream she’d had since high school, she said, but when she returned home to Antigo, Wis., she realized it was time to tackle another goal: Donating a kidney.

“I was in the best shape of my life after hiking the Appalachian Trail and I thought it was the right time to donate,” Adams said. “I got the idea years ago after listening to a living donor talk about the experience on a podcast and finally decided to get checked out, which is how I found the UW Health Transplant Center.”

Adams completed the necessary tests in August 2021 and made her donation in January 2022. Dr. David Foley, surgeon, UW Health Transplant Center, and professor of surgery, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, performed the transplant.

She is one of more than 3,000 living kidney donors who have donated through University of Wisconsin Organ and Tissue Donation, according to Dr. Joshua Mezrich, surgeon, UW Health Transplant Center, and professor of surgery at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

“Living kidney donors like Jean prove that donation doesn’t have to slow you down or stop you from enjoying your hobbies,” Mezrich said. “Most people waiting for a transplant need a kidney, making living donation an incredible, lifesaving gift.”

There are more than 90,000 people nationwide on the waitlist for a kidney transplant, making living donation all the more important, he said.

“A kidney from a living donor may also be a better match to the recipient and often lasts much longer than a kidney from a deceased donor,” Mezrich said.

Adams’ recovery took about eight weeks, but as soon as she was able, she grabbed her 20-pound backpack and resumed hiking, she said. She started with 10 miles a day and worked up to longer distances.

This month, she reached the milestone of completing one-third of the Ice Age Trail, and reflected on how the transplant has changed her life and that of her recipient.

“I don’t know who received my kidney, but I feel great knowing I was able to save someone’s life without having to run into a burning building,” Adams said.

She’s trekking the roughly 1,200-mile route across Wisconsin in sections every week. She intends to finish the entire trail by August.