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Living kidney donation: The selfless gift that changed two lives

March 20, 2019

Morgan Pfeiffer has felt a range of emotions when it comes to her living kidney donation. Some include doubt and exhaustion. Alternatively, she also experienced understanding, empathy and compassion.

Morgan donated a kidney in 2017 to then-two-year-old Will Schweitzer of Milford, Neb.

Will’s grandmother babysat Morgan when she was a child. So, when the call came on social media for Will and his father, who both needed kidney transplants, Morgan sprung into action.

Morgan is a first-year medical student at Washington University in the St. Louis School of Medicine and enjoys running, cooking, eating ice cream and drinking coffee. She describes herself as friendly, enthusiastic and curious and loves trying new things, meeting new people and traveling to new places.

Although Morgan acted quickly when she learned of Will’s need, she said she initially did not anticipate being a match. Finding out she was a match sparked a full range of emotions.

“Of course, it is a scary thing to imagine having a major surgery that could potentially affect my health long term,” she said. “Throughout my doubts though, I could never quite shake the feeling of responsibility and opportunity.

“I had the opportunity to change the course of someone else’s life and directly impact their health outcome. It’s so hard to describe what it feels like to have that opportunity right in front of you.”

The donation process took Morgan about six months from the time of pre-screenings to ensure she was healthy enough for surgery to the surgery itself. The recovery process was both emotionally and physically exhausting for her.

“Immediately post-op, I felt as you might expect: extremely sore and tired,” Morgan said. “This was difficult for me as I have been a very active person my entire life. It was hard for me to accept that I couldn’t go right back to work, right back to school (I was a senior at UNL at the time of surgery), or right back to going on runs with my friends.”

Currently, Morgan says she feels physically exactly the same as she did before the transplant. Unless she wears a swimming suit or something that shows her scars, she doesn’t even think about being different than she was before.

Emotionally, Morgan also worried a lot initially about Will:

“Was he healthy? Would his body continue to accept the organ? Had I made the right decision in donating?” she said.

The further away from the operation she gets, the less anxious Morgan says she feels.

“I have realized that no matter what happens for either of us long term, I did what was best for us,” she said. “Donation gives my recipient the chance of a normal childhood: the ability to run, play and do all of the other things little people do.

“He will not spend his childhood in hospitals receiving dialysis or other treatments. I feel so much joy and happiness watching him grow up and change.”

Admittedly, Morgan says donation was at times incredibly difficult, but the meaning she has taken from it outweighs the struggles.

“It will always be the most meaningful and important gift I have the privilege of sharing with someone else. Organ donation has taught me what it means to do something in a truly selfless and pure way.

“With normal charity or volunteer work, there can be other motivations besides the cause. But giving a part of yourself to another person requires you to be brave and truly empathize with the other person’s struggles and challenges.

“This understanding, empathy, and compassion is something I always want to embody. I want to continue to give to others in a way that is pure and for the right reasons.”

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