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Colleen Piaskowski has always been afraid of needles.
The Manitowoc, Wis., woman can’t stand the idea of a sharp object pricking her skin — and the anticipation of pain that goes along with it. Yet for the past 10 years, she has been a regular blood donor, and in April 2018 she became an altruistic kidney donor. Her explanation — at least for donating blood — is that she wanted to be a good role model for the high school students she teaches.
As for the kidney donation, that came about because of a newspaper article she read about a local Hmong woman who needed a kidney transplant. The woman was having trouble finding a living kidney donor among her loved ones because Hmong people believe they will need their organs in their next life.
"I taught English as a second language to adults for five years at a technical college,” Colleen said. “I have a soft spot in my heart for the Hmong community."
Colleen reached out to the woman through LinkedIn and asked what she needed to do to be tested for living kidney donation. She traveled to University Hospital in Madison and underwent the necessary testing, eventually learning she was not a match for the woman.
They decided to participate in a paired exchange, in which Colleen donates a kidney on the woman’s behalf, and the woman receives a kidney from another living donor. Colleen donated her kidney on April 19, 2018, and later learned it went to a recipient on the East or West Coast. “It was the most amazing, most important thing I’ve ever done in my life — aside from bringing two children into the world,” Colleen said.
The Hmong woman underwent her own surgery in June — it turned out that one of her acquaintances was a match, so she received that person’s kidney. But Colleen doesn’t regret giving her kidney to a stranger for a second.
"Just a couple weeks of discomfort is totally worth giving someone a whole new life,” she said. “I feel like I was more blessed with this whole experience than the recipient. Now that I’ve learned so much about it, I want to tell everybody to consider it."