Sunday, September 18, 2011

Kidney March-People Power

‎"We relish news of our heroes, forgetting that we are extraordinary to somebody too." Helen Hayes

The greatest part about the Kidney March are the people. Doesn't matter if they are marchers, crew or those that fall in between, they all have a story. You can learn from every single one of them. There is something very powerful about that.

I'm a little shy and can be a bit of a loner. Engaging people in conversation isn't always my strong suit. Despite this, by the end of the second day of the Kidney March I had talked to at least 20 people enough that I had a sense of who they were and what brought them to the march. What fueled them to keep going.

Like the mother of a young girl with an auto immune disorder that attacks her kidneys randomly. I was amazed at how much she knew about the human body, the medical world and how many battles her daughter had already been through from the simplest of colds and flues. I can't imagine how scary it is to have to deal with a sick child or a world where a trip to a Children Hospital is normal. When she asked me why I was marching and I told her I was a donor-she thanked me. That just didn't seem right-after all I hadn't done a thing to help her or her daughter. I couldn't help.

Or "RBC Jim" (what I called him-not how he referred to himself). I actually knew of him before the march. An organ recipient, he had sent an email to friends asking for their sponsorship of his daughter in the march back in the late spring. A friend of mine had forwarded me the email as encouragement as I was just about to donate Leftie-he wanted me to see how organ donation had impacted someone in his life. When I found myself sitting beside Jim while he waited for his daughter at the massage tent, I decided to introduce myself and let him know of our mutual acquaintance. I mentioned the email and why our friend had sent it to me. We talked about some other things and he then said "So you are a donor then". I said yes and he asked to whom. When I told him a stranger asked me if I was catholic. I said no and he remarked that was too bad because if I was, I'd probably be worthy of sainthood. I laughed, thanked him, reasoning that one kidney does not erase all the other less than saintly activities I've done in my life. He smiled and said that in his mind, there was little that could not be neutralized by the act of donation and he too thanked me. What I liked about Jim is how positive he was-its like he had a genuine love for every moment, every experience each day brought him. Organ donation gave him a second chance and he isn't going to waste a bit of it. I especially liked his joke about his belly being a little more robust than average because there were spare organs in there (although they don't all work" he quipped).

I met two ladies who were marching in support of their friend's children who were born with kidney problems. It is one thing to pledge money for your friend to march but to walk that far for someone else's kids is pretty amazing. These ladies were in pain a lot towards the end of the march (blisters) but they kept going as best they could. In doing so they kept me going when I wasn't sure I had steps in me left to take. One of those ladies asked me a ton of questions about donating a kidney and near the end confided that it's something she would consider now that she knew more.Stuff like that reminds me how important it is for me to keep talking about kidney donation because sharing my story might just lead to others donating someday.

There was also Didja and her family (click to watch her story). I think she inspires everyone she meets. She is so strong, so positive and so genuine. She has been to hell and back medically and keeps on going-with a smile. Most of us would have given up after even a quarter of what she's been through or at the very least we'd be miserable people. Or at least very self involved people. But not Didja. During the Kidney March she rallied my spirits several times. I was humbled by her optimism. Whether it was a well timed hug or just cheer or nod, I think it is safe to say she powered every marcher forward at some point over the weekend. And her family was fantastic. Her husband was so supportive of everyone marching, making sure people were safe and had everything they needed. Their 11 year old daughter did whatever she could to make marchers in the "Happy Van" feel welcome-whether it be getting them a drink at rest stops or offering candy. She is a smart, compassionate kid with a quiet confidence beyond her years. As individuals they were amazing and as a family they were a strong, inspirational unit.

Cathy was another mighty marcher I had some knowledge of before the event. She sadly lost her daughter (who she and her husband had named Juggernaut, in the hopes that she would be “an unstoppable force”)  in utero at 5 months gestation, because of complications relating to Cathy's hereditary kidney condition. She did some unique fundraising including a 3 day Kidney Raffle event which raffled off products and services (like marketing and branding work) her friends and colleagues had donated (the marketer in me liked this idea very much). I first learned of her story from our dog Cricket's foster mom Jane. At the time I was in awe of the fundraising goal Cathy had set and how she was making it happen. It was really cool to meet her and see her several times along the route of the march.

Sue, Lee, Marian and Rosie-inspiring ladies
There were so many others I met that left an impression on me-my Ontario crew I've mentioned before. Sue, a kidney recipient who gave me the best insight I've had yet as to what living with dialysis and the uncertainty is like. And what it is like to be on the receiving end of someone else's kidney. Marian and her candid words about being a kidney donor herself. She made me laugh with her matter-of-factness. She was also my voice of reason and I hold her mostly responsible for the fact that I stayed healthy didn't overdo it during the march. Rosie and Lee...they are fabulous strong, smart, confident women. I admire them both so much and how hard they worked to raise so much money (over 30K!!).

I was excited to also finally meet Jill from the Kidney Foundation. Last October, while watching a downloaded episode of Grey's Anatomy feature a domino transplant chain. I looked up the Kidney Foundation of Southern Alberta to see if we do that kind of thing here in Canada. I searched through their contact options and finally settled on Jill, as the Manager, Programs & Organ Donation Initiatives. I nervously emailed her to see if she knew how my donating a kidney might work in Calgary. She responded in a friendly, encouraging manner and directed me to the Living Donor program at Foothills. I think had she not responded so positively and quickly, I may have lost my nerve-and this past year wouldn't have turned out the way it did. We kept in touch via email over the months, chatting about my intentions, the social media ban and more. She invited me to the Kidney March celebration last January so I could learn more about kidney disease and the people it impacted, to better understand the positive implications of my potential donation. Meeting Jill face to face after all this time was like coming full circle on this crazy kidney journey.

There were so many remarkable people powering the Kidney March it's hard to do everyone the justice they deserve. And I know there were so many others I didn't even talk to that were equally inspiring and had stories that deserve to be shared. It would make a great coffee table book. Maybe I'll do that next year :)

Just under 300 or so everyday people raised well over $700,000 for the Kidney Foundation in the 2011 Kidney March. They also donated their feet, sweat and tears to the cause. They brought their stories, good and bad, and more importantly their hope for a future without the effects of Kidney Disease. They kept each other going and made sure no one was left behind. The Kidney March was a fundraiser-but it was also just as much about the value of the power of people brought together by a common goal. It's not often you spend a weekend with strangers and at the end of it all feel like anything is possible.


  1. It was great meeting you, Lauren! And especially great to cross paths with you and your positive attitude along the way, while we were slogging it out. Good times.

    Keep well and big love,

  2. Thanks Cathy...I'm glad I got to meet you as well! It was good to have someone to look for along the way! Hope your feet are doing well :)

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