My Kidney Donation Story: Kari Rancourt
When I went to nursing school, I assumed I would work in pediatrics or labor and delivery, but ended up quickly realizing those were not a good match for me.
I graduated nursing school without any idea what path I wanted my career to take. Somewhat randomly, I decided to take a job on the transplant floor as it seemed like a unique opportunity to learn medical and surgical nursing skills—skills I was told would create a foundation for any future career. While that might have been true, what I learned most is that transplant is a calling. I fell in love with this field, and like any good love affair, it has not always been easy, but it has always been worth it. My early days as a bedside nurse challenged me in ways I never thought possible; most days left me exhausted both physically and emotionally, some days left me heartbroken, as you learn you can’t save everyone, and the best days left me in awe of what we can accomplish with care and expertise.
I honestly can’t say what I knew about living donation that early in my life, but I’m sure it wasn’t much. In our giant textbooks in nursing school, transplant was probably covered in a single page, with no mention of living donation. But I do remember taking care of my first living donor, who was obviously miserable but somehow still smiling. I didn’t understand it, but I instantly thought, “I should do that someday.” I knew I wasn’t ready then, but the seed had been planted.
In the years since that first living donor, I transferred to our outpatient transplant clinic and quickly moved into the living donor coordinator role. I got married, had children, and moved several times. And on January 25, 2023, just 6 months ago, I finally did what I always knew I would do: I donated my kidney through the National Kidney Registry’s Family Voucher Program. In donating a kidney to a stranger, I learned so much about myself and my team, but most importantly, my patients.
I learned that post-op nausea is absolutely a thing, and a debilitating one at that. I learned that all the little catchphrases I’ve developed are actually helpful pieces of advice, as plenty of times I had to remind myself to be gentle and not rush recovery. And I can say with certainty that even though a donor might seem to go through hell and back in their recovery, they have zero regrets. Some donors bounce right back, but I ended up on the longer end of recovery. During that time, I got just a tiny glimmer of what recipients must feel like in dealing with medical issues, and even though I didn’t know exactly how long it would take, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I would completely recover. That certainty is a luxury that people waiting for a kidney transplant don’t have.
I am honestly so grateful for this experience and the deeper empathy it has given me, though I hope I can keep my own journey separated from that of each incredible person who entrusts me to guide them through this process. Many people ask me, “Why don’t more transplant professionals donate?” My first thought is probably because we know too much. A direct quote from my surgeon’s pre-op note was, “She probably understands the risks better than I do,” which is the highest praise from a surgeon. All we do in medicine is balance risks and benefits, but risks exist everywhere we go. And like any true believer in living donation, I would love to see our community take the lead in practicing what we preach. But then I take a step back and remember that each person might have their own medical or personal issues preventing them from donating. Living donation is something that should be done freely, willingly, and without coercion.
And it needs to feel right. I thought about this for 16 and a half years before finally deciding it was time. I had the support of my husband, and there is no way I could have done this without him. He will tell you that on our first date, I told him I was going to donate a kidney someday, so he knew what he was getting himself into. We were done having children, and neither of them had congenital issues so presumably they will never need a transplant themselves, but we love the peace of mind the vouchers provide. Once the timing felt right, it was easy to put myself in the hands of my own team. There are so many incredible programs out there that all do amazing things, but I am so proud of the work done by Hartford Hospital.
When I look back to 22-year-old me somewhat arbitrarily taking that offer on the transplant floor, it amazes me how this path unfolded. Every twist and turn along the way has forged connections and friendships I never could have imagined. And somehow, it has led me to be here, honored to be sharing a piece of my story. I have to admit, I feel a bit of imposter syndrome, as I have had the privilege to get to know so many donors over the years and I truly think each of them has a story that is far more interesting than mine. I would like to thank each and every one of them for inspiring me day after day. And while it’s a little uncomfortable sometimes to share my personal story, if it inspires just one person to donate then it was definitely worth it.
Thank you for reading my story, and thank you fellow donors for the light you put into my life and the world.
About the Author
Kari Rancourt is a living donor transplant coordinator at Hartford Hospital. She is passionate about educating patients, staff, the nephrology community, and the public about donation options.
She serves on the Operations Committee for the National Kidney Registry, the Medical Advisory Board for the National Kidney Foundation serving Connecticut, and as a Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for Donate Life Connecticut.
In January 2023, she became a nondirected kidney donor utilizing the National Kidney Registry’s Family Voucher program. Outside of work, she lives with her husband, two children, and dog. She enjoys reading, yoga, and spending time with family and friends.