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On Vegan Kidney Donations

I said I would write about this, intended to write about this, then didn't. Until now! It's never too late! (I tweeted, but I don't think that counts.)

"My Big Fat Vegan Kidney Donation," by vegan Hillary Rettig, tells of her desire to donate a kidney to a stranger. She searches the profiles at and finds a retired veterinarian (Bill) who started a no-kill shelter MaxFund). Perfect. Done.

So I called Bill and offered to donate. Then came a months-long battery of medical tests, including the ever-popular 24-hour urine collection, in which you get to pee into a giant bottle and then hand it over to some lucky nurse. Then we had some vegan drama: some of my urine levels were low according to the standards of traditional medicine. Dr. John J. Pippin from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine to the rescue! He wrote a note to me, which I forwarded to the transplant center, explaining, "Since many vegans have lower (healthier) protein intake than omnivores, and NO animal protein intake, their GFRs [glomerular filtration rates, y'all -HR] will often be lower…vegetarian and vegan diets actually improve kidney function for patients with kidney disease."

In November, I flew from Boston to the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, where the transplant would take place. There, I met Bill and Nanci in person for the first time, which, as you can imagine, was intense. They were filled with gratitude and amazement bordering on shock, since only about a 100 people a year get a kidney donated by a stranger. So, for them, this was like winning some kind of super-lottery. I understood their gratitude but felt uncomfortable over it. For me, the donation really was an inconvenience as opposed to a major sacrifice — honestly don't know why more people don't do it. Besides, I am profoundly grateful for their twenty years' commitment to helping animals, which seems like a much bigger deal.

In case you're wondering, it's a minimally invasive procedure, recovery doesn't seem to be a big deal, and the recipient and their insurance pay all medical expenses. And you are bumped to the top of the list if you need a kidney.
Then there's this . . .

A lot of people look at you weird when you tell them you're donating a kidney to a non-family member, just as they look at you weird when you tell them you're vegan. In this society, unfortunately, you can ruin countless people's lives running a corrupt investment fund and still meet with more social approval than if you try to lead a life of nonviolence and altruism. But we're all working on that, right? So, just like with the veganism, I shout the donation out loud and proud. . .
Even if you're not able, or willing, to donate a kidney, think about what you could do to save a life. There lots more ways to do it than you might think, including going vegan, which, if you're an American, saves about 90 lives a year (!), compared with the average American diet, and also helps keep you healthier.

Thanks again to Laura, for directing me to this story.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. What a generous gesture! I hadn't ever thought about donating while alive… But I'm probably going to be quite heartless here, saying that my caveat would be donating to a fellow vegan only.

    I've been an organ donor for 15 years… only recently do I see that this might not be my wish. I really have no desire (in my death) to aid the continued life of someone who's going to eat animals. For me, that just wouldn't make sense. I doubt that one can put restrictions on the use of their harvested organs. Therefore – I'm probably going to change my status and keep my well used/worn out parts entact.

    And I don't know how true this is, but I was told that the medical/science community would use animals for dissection and tissue/skin replacement, a lot less if more human cadavers were made available. (?) In this case I'd gladly opt for my remains to be put to good use. But here, I don't know enough of what's true or not (?) Anyone know?

    Oddly enough… here is another vegan who donated a kidney in 07:

    February 7, 2009

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