Woman Donated Kidney to Complete Stranger, Starts US's Longest Multi-Hospital Donor Chain

Kathy Hart is one of 250 people in what might be a record-breaking chain.

ByABC News
April 14, 2015, 4:07 AM

— -- After his daughter Samantha needed a kidney when she was just 10 years old, Garet Hil created the National Kidney Registry’s paired exchange program. When loved ones and friends aren't good matches for a patient in need of a kidney, one of them can agree to donate a kidney on the patient's behalf to someone who they do match with through the program. Meanwhile, computers scan for other potential matches around the country in a chain of potential donors and recipients. The foundation of Hil's system is built on altruism, with 250 good Samaritans often donating their kidneys to strangers across the country. Kathy Hart was the first altruistic donor in this chain.

Read her story below, and watch the full story on ABC News' "Nightline" TONIGHT at 12:35 a.m. ET.

I was first inspired to donate while in yoga class where I learned about Jack -- a seven year old boy who needed a kidney transplant. His family was desperately searching for a donor who shared Jack’s blood type. I didn't know Jack and I didn't know my blood type, but I knew I wanted to help a child in need. Although I discovered I wasn't a match for Jack, by then, the seed of opportunity had been planted. I could help someone else.

Around the same time, a different yoga teacher challenged to “go and give beyond your comfort zone.” I already gave money to charity and volunteered my time. “Donating life” seemed a worthy cause and doing so would definitely go beyond my comfort zone. I hated going to the doctor and avoided routine checkups. I had never had surgery or donated blood. Yet, I underwent numerous tests including blood draws, a cat scan, an EKG, chest x-rays, and a psychological exam. My psychological evaluation concluded I am “disinclined by nature to dwell on the unknown.” What good would it do? By following my heart and my intention to serve others, I felt clarity and peace.

I was completely at peace because it wasn't about me, but about a purpose greater than my own needs. It wasn't important to me to know the recipient or her history, race, religion, age, gender or lifestyle -- only that she had a need that I could help fulfill. I was at peace because I trusted the transplant team and their prognosis that my body would function normally with one kidney. I was at peace because the expected benefit far outweighed my risk.

Donating a kidney was one of the easiest decisions I've ever made. I did it because I could. It was that simple. The question for me was never “why would I?” but “why wouldn't I?”

I remain at peace because life offers no guarantees. I appreciate but don’t take for granted my blessing of good health. I don’t worry that I might someday need my other kidney any more than I worry about getting struck by lightening. Peace comes not from certainty, but from listening to my heart and acting consistent with my beliefs.

Reactions to my decision are mixed. Most people understand donating to family or a friend, but donating to a complete stranger is contrary to conventional thinking. The most common reaction I hear is, “I could never do that, I’m way too selfish. You are a saint.” I am definitely not a saint, but what is known as a Good Samaritan living kidney donor. It was not only one of the easiest decisions I've made, it was one of the best.