Living kidney donation

Natasha's donation sparks lifelong friendship

Natasha, smiling in a blue sweater standing next to a stone wall.
Natasha Irish was inspired to donate her kidney after reading a social media post from a family in need.

In May 2022, I saw a Facebook post about a woman in my community (Kelly) who was looking for a kidney donor.

The post, written by her husband (Nick) shared about Kelly's declining health from polycystic kidney disease. Nick and Kelly were strangers to me at the time, but we shared many mutual friends.

Nick’s post received so many comments and likes that it kept re-appearing at the top of my newsfeed for several days. After scrolling past it a half a dozen times, I finally took the time to read it. There was something about Nick’s post that resonated with me. His words were genuine, and the hundreds of comments told me that Kelly was well-loved and certainly deserved a second chance to enjoy life with her family. Nick’s post shared that they were looking for an O+ donor, which was the last nudge I needed to fill out the online donor questionnaire.

A few weeks later, a nurse coordinator from the UW Health Transplant team called me to say they had an overwhelming response for Kelly, and that they’d be screening friends and family first. Several months went by and I assumed Kelly had found her match—until last September, when the nurse coordinator called me back to ask if I’d still be interested in moving forward with the donor evaluation process for Kelly.

I was quickly scheduled for that full-day evaluation at UW Health, where I found out I was an excellent candidate for donation. Tissue typing showed that while I was a good match for Kelly, I wasn’t perfect. At this time, Kelly and I had exchanged a few messages with one another but had not yet met in person. When the time came for me to decide if I was going to move forward with donation, Kelly and I finally met in person. I knew when I met Kelly that my initial impressions of her were correct—she was incredibly kind and patient and had nothing but my own well-being in mind.

Kelly and I both knew after we met that day in early December that I would be her donor, but through the paired exchange voucher program. I was prepared to have surgery as soon as possible so that Kelly would have the best chance at being matched with her perfect kidney to avoid having to start dialysis. I was activated in the National Kidney Registry a few days after Christmas, and two days later my nurse coordinator called to say I had already been matched!

I was scheduled for surgery on Jan. 31, 2023. My kidney would go to a stranger in Minnesota (I still have not heard from my recipient but hope that will happen someday). My surgery went well and as scheduled, and the following week Kelly was officially activated on the National Kidney Registry because of my donation. Less than two months later, Kelly received the call that she’d been matched and was scheduled for surgery at UW Health in April.

My motivation for donation stemmed partly from reading about Kelly’s story, but also from my professional work. I’ve spent my career working in under-resourced countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. Because of this, I have a unique perspective on health equity and my privilege to have access to medical care (such as transplant) that
doesn’t exist in other parts of the world.

Through the power of social media, two strangers living in the same community now share a bond unlike any other. Kelly was my biggest cheerleader and support during recovery—organizing meals, gift cards and help for my family so that I could rest. Our families will forever be intertwined, and I am so grateful that living donation is the reason for that.

I had an incredible experience as a donor, especially thanks to the patience, guidance, and thoroughness of the UW Health Transplant Center team. Choosing to become a donor was an easy “yes!” for me.