Logo for: National Kidney Registry

With One Kidney, Am I More Than I Was Before?

Matt Cavanaugh

Today, as I type this, is March 15, 2022—6 months since I donated my left kindey to a stranger in Seattle on September 15, 2021.

When I was discharged from the hospital, the nurse handed me a piece of paper that said not to run for 6 months. At the time, I highlighted the restricted-activity-paragraph, and then underlined the key part of the sentence that read: “You can march in place, no running or sit-ups for 6 months.”

If I had followed that advice, I wouldn’t have run until tomorrow. I wouldn’t have run at all.

I didn’t follow that advice.

Why should I have?

If you were me, would you have? I walked out of the hospital the day after surgery. Then I kept walking. For a full week, I walked for miles around the National Mall in Washington, DC. When I got home to Colorado, the only thing separating me from those power-walking older folks was the flashy fanny pack.

I started to jog on Day 27.

That felt so fine I went back to training as much as I could take. Because “marching in place” seemed like a boring alternative.

And do you know what I did for the last 3 days of that discharge-paper-recommended-6-month-no-run period?

I ran 83 miles. More than I have ever run in 3 days in my life. My previous 3-day high was somewhere in the 60 mile range. I just beat that by one-third. In this way—one-kidney Matt is 133 percent of old-two-kidney Matt. I’ve been upgraded.

What if we’re stronger, better, more powerful with one kidney? Of course, there are some tradeoffs to our physical selves, but what if emotional and psychological health is so boosted post-kidney-donation that we’re more than what we were before?

I mean that. I’m not just messing around. I recognize I’m a data point of one, a single anecdote, a one-off, a story. But my experience has been just that—someone who’s life’s been boosted by kidney donation.

That’s what 1K4D—this entire experiment—is about. You might say I’m eager to test this hypothesis: Can you be more with less? Can your life be bigger when you give up a small kidney? Could I be a better athlete on a single kidney?

This past weeknd I felt like I got that answer.

On Friday, a normal workday, I ran 22 miles in under 3 hours. On Saturday, I ran 35 miles in a little less than 5 hours. And on Sunday I did over 26 miles in 3:40-ish. Add it all up, that’s 83 miles in about 13 hours.

You can’t fake that. You can’t fudge that. Gloss it over. Running’s great that way. It’s objective. It’s marked on a digital watch with pinpoint GPS accuracy.

So I’m confronted with a simple question: Am I more than I was before?