2019 Transplant and Organ Donation Calendar: Tracey Hulick
It would have been so convenient for Tracey Hulick to ignore her desire to donate her kidney to a stranger. After all, she had been running competitively since she was 12 years old and has raced in marathons since 2004. Undergoing such a major surgery doesn’t exactly help a person trying to improve her strength and endurance.
And, indeed, after donating her kidney on May 23, 2017, she had a difficult time returning to the sport she loved right away. She ran a half-marathon just six months afterward, but then decided to take a break from long-distance running and focus on yoga and weightlifting instead.
Then, in the spring of 2018, her love for running returned with a fervor. As she describes in her blog, Leaving It Better Than I Found It, “I thought about my kidney recipient and how much better of a life she has now. I thought about my small scars under layers of running clothes that quietly tell the story of my journey from the last year, and I thought about the fire I felt in my soul.” And she ran — with tears streaming down her face.
Tracey’s drive to become a non-directed kidney donor began when she was in seventh grade, when a girl in her class said her uncle donated a kidney to her cousin. Every single student in the class thought that was a crazy idea, except Tracey.
“I couldn’t understand what was wrong with all of them,” she says. “I put that on my mental list of things I wanted to do.”
A few years ago, when a coworker shared that her husband was donating a kidney to his sister, her interest was renewed. She began undergoing testing at UW Health to become an altruistic kidney donor. Altruistic, or non-directed, donors are particularly amazing because they can start kidney chains where their kidney goes to one patient, that patient’s donor gives a kidney to another patient, and so on. In Tracey’s case, four patients received kidneys because of Tracey’s gift of life.
Since then, Tracey met the woman from Colorado Springs, Colorado, who received her kidney, and the two keep in touch through texts. In a stroke of serendipity, Tracey, now 40, moved to Lakewood, Colorado (just west of Denver), in May 2018.
Tracey is an advocate for living donors, sharing her experience on her blog and through social media. She has mentored several other living donors and even inspired a friend to become a non-directed living kidney donor. She also launched a website, Kidney Donor Athletes, where she features a new donor athlete each week.
“I’ve actually had dreams that I could donate multiple kidneys,” she says. “In those dreams, I have become so efficient at growing kidneys that every six months, a new one appears.”
Running has become an important part of her life again. Last fall, Tracey participated in a 50-mile race in Denver, where she was the second woman to cross the finish line.
“After donating my kidney, I appreciate the miles so much more,” she says. “I savor each and every step now.”