Living kidney donation

Kevin's random act of kindness saves a life

Man in running gear standing in front of a finish line at a race.

What first drew Kevin Cox to become a kidney donor was the sheer science of it.

He heard a podcast about the National Kidney Registry’s paired exchange program, which allows living donors to give a kidney to a stranger in exchange for another stranger donating a kidney to their loved one. As an engineer, Kevin was interested in the math used to solve the problem connecting donors and recipients.

While Kevin didn’t have a loved one who needed a kidney, he wanted to help and loved the idea that the program is able to find the best match for someone who was badly in need of a kidney transplant. As a runner, he was considering what he might tackle for his personal challenge the next year, and he thought it might be kidney donation.

“Being able to do something for someone else seemed more meaningful than running an arbitrary distance in an arbitrary amount of time,” he said.

Kevin, who lives in Chesterfield, Missouri, started his research on becoming a non-directed living kidney donor with the National Kidney Registry (NKR). He learned there was not a NKR affiliated donor hospital near his house, but the UW Health Transplant Center in Madison, Wisconsin was an NKR site. He did some research and decided to pursue donation at UW Health because it performed so many kidney donation surgeries every year.

He traveled to Madison in March 2022 for testing, and after caregivers determined he was healthy enough to donate a kidney, he scheduled his donation for Sept. 29, 2022. As an added bonus, he was able to register for the Kidney Family Voucher Program. With this program, he was able to name up to five family members and if one of them needs a kidney transplant in the future, they will be short-listed for a transplant from a living donor.

Before his donation, Kevin found the Kidney Donor Athletes organization, which provided him with a mentor who gave him an idea of what he could expect during his recovery. In March 2024, he teamed up with 13 other kidney donors and a transplant surgeon to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania for kidney donation awareness.

“I’m hoping my story will inspire folks to consider donating a kidney,” he said. “Hopefully, it will give others some confidence that they don’t need to be afraid.”

While Kevin didn’t expect to ever find out who received his kidney, his recipient (whose friend donated a kidney on her behalf to receive a voucher) sent him a thank-you note through the hospital. The two exchanged information last winter, and now they’re Facebook friends.

For Kevin, though, it was enough just to know he was making someone’s life better. “I went into it with no expectations. You don’t know where it’s going, and that’s part of what I wanted. This was a gift to humanity—not a single person.”