Raegan Johnson

Living Kidney Donor

RaeganJohnson3_cropWhile in college, Raegan Johnson’s mom started dialysis, but Raegan didn’t really know what it all meant. She knew her mom had lost a lot of weight, and that she was receiving treatment, but Raegan didn’t make the connection that her kidneys were failing.  Her mom was very reluctant to ask a loved one to become her donor and had refused an offer from Raegan’s aunt. At age 24, Raegan’s older brother learned from his doctor that excess proteins had been found in his urine. He had been diagnosed with the disease too.

Fast forward six years. Raegan was preparing for graduate school when her brother, Reggie broke the news. His kidneys were failing. Reggie relayed his options: dialysis, transplant from a diseased donor, or the possibility of finding a living donor. His doctor had encouraged him to try to find a donor before resorting to dialysis, but it was tough for a big brother to ask his little sister to do something so selfless. Reggie’s mom helped broach the subject and Raegan agreed to be his donor – but she had to first consider her own health. “In college, I was very overweight. The first question was whether I’d be healthy enough to do it,” said Raegan.

She had work to do. She needed to get her blood pressure down and lose some weight. She lost 5 lbs., got her blood pressure into the acceptable range, and was declared eligible to donate.  Some of those around her were apprehensive, and expressed concerns about the potential outcome of the surgery. “Maybe I was naïve, but I wasn’t too worried because I knew I was doing the right thing. Once I’d made up my mind, I was focused.” Raegan adds that her Christian faith also increased her confidence in her decision – in turn reducing her fears of the worst. “If this is how I was meant to go, then I would go having done the right thing,” she concluded.

Asked about how she felt post-surgery, Raegan’s response was immediate. “It was painful. I hadn’t had children, not even a broken bone. I’d never experienced major pain. It was more shocking than anything.” Her recovery time lasted 6-8 weeks.

Despite the discomfort and initial pain of surgery, her experience continues to be satisfying. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving, seeing my brother thrive and being the husband, the father, and the Christian man that he is. It’s a gift to see him do so well.”

Raegan’s donation also kicked off a journey for her to become a healthier person. “Because I didn’t have much of an appetite, I lost 10 lbs right after surgery. But it was such a blessing for me. I started exercising, making better food choices, and I began to see results.” Her journey has also involved becoming an advocate for kidney disease prevention, especially within the African-American community. She serves as a peer mentor for the National Kidney Foundation and her advice always includes a message to get tested. “We focus on breast cancer, which is important, but kidney disease primarily affects African Americans. Nearly 1 in 3 kidney failure  patients living in the United States is African American.  My message encourages individuals to get their kidneys tested and watch their diets.” Her advice to potential donors is to focus on making sure that each is in a good position to be a donor. “It’s not just about the recipient’s health. As a donor, your health should also be a priority.”

Twelve years after her surgery, her family is doing great. She’s lost a total of 60 lbs, and continues to lead a healthy lifestyle. Reggie is healthy and is off most of his medications. As for Mom? “After our surgery, my Mom reconsidered my aunt’s offer and was transplanted in 2006.”

This story just keeps getting better.