Nephrologist “Walks the Walk,” Becomes Life-Saving Living Kidney Donor

Lisa Schwartz
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In January 2024, Anna Gaddy, MD, FASN, a nephrologist at Froedtert Hospital and Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, created quite a buzz on X (formerly Twitter) after her altruistic living kidney donation. Trending hashtags included #Hero, #Walkthewalk, and #SavingALife, and Gaddy was referred to as an angel, a superhero, incredible, and inspiring. Gaddy did not know the person who would be receiving her spare kidney, which continues to spark the conversation about the importance of living organ donation and how directed and nondirected living kidney donations save the lives of those with chronic kidney disease (CKD) and kidney failure.

Gaddy remains a substantial proponent for living kidney transplants and bringing awareness to the topic of live organ donation—something many people, even in the medical community, are not aware of. In the end, she hopes that her selfless act continues to inspire others to “walk the walk” by exploring living kidney donation.


Anna Gaddy, MD, FASN

Citation: Kidney News 16, 5

Q: Why did you decide to become a living kidney donor?

A: Seeing patients [who] I have developed a rapport with day in and day out whose conditions could continue to decline no matter what I do to treat them is very difficult. We’ve seen several medical advances such as SGLT2 [sodium-glucose cotransporter-2] inhibitors and new treatments for glomerulonephritis over the past few years that help nephrologists improve and prolong the lives of patients. That's hopeful for the future of CKD treatment. Being a living kidney donor, however, was one of the few things I could do now that would improve the life of someone with CKD. We can live with one healthy kidney, and donating the spare kidney is truly lifesaving.

Q: Were you concerned about giving up a kidney that a family member or loved one may need later in life?

A: No, this wasn't a concern. I went through the National Kidney Registry (NKR), which is an amazing organization that helps increase the number of living kidney donor transplants while protecting living donors. I participated in the Family Voucher program [], which is for donors who give a kidney to a stranger, often for a transplant chain. So, if one of my family members ever needs a kidney transplant in the future, they receive prioritization for a kidney donation. Learning about NKR and that as a nondirected donor, my family will be covered if they ever need a kidney in the future made me feel at peace with my decision. It's like a backup plan, a “just in case.”

Q: Was the donor testing process arduous?

A: NKR made testing very easy. [The organization] sent boxes for the bloodwork to my house. I had the choice to go to the lab or to have a phlebotomist sent to my home to do the bloodwork. I had my bloodwork and other tests done where I work at the Medical College of Wisconsin, which is also a kidney transplant center. The process was simple and streamlined.

Q: To dispel any fear, doubts, or even misconceptions that people may have about living donation, can you explain your surgery and recovery process?

A: In the scheme of things, the surgery was relatively easy. The procedure was performed laparoscopically, and one kidney was removed through a 3-inch incision in my abdomen. I was only in the hospital for one night and was up and moving the next day, albeit a bit slowly, which helped my recovery. I managed any discomfort with just [acetaminophen]. As with any surgery, I wasn't allowed to lift anything heavy for a few weeks but was able to shower, cook, and care for myself with no issues almost immediately after the surgery. I took 3 weeks off work to recover but was back at work 2 weeks postsurgery, and to be honest, I could have gone back to work even earlier than that!

Q: As a physician who is used to taking care of others, what was it like being the patient?

A: The good thing was, I was a patient in my own hospital. I love my colleagues and know they’re great, empathetic [practitioners], but it was nice to see just how well they cared for me and my loved ones throughout the transplant process. Being a patient and a donor helps me explain the logistics to my own patients going through the transplant journey. I have a better understanding and appreciation for everyone's role in the process.

Q: Has this experience changed the way you approach your job as a nephrologist?

A: I have several patients who will need a kidney transplant in the near future. I share my experience as a living donor with them because it's important for them to see how healthy I am after my surgery. Many transplant recipients feel guilty about taking a kidney from a loved one. I’ve always been open and compassionate with my patients, and now I feel like I can advocate more for living donation since I’ve been there myself. I can be more open to helping my patients realize that yes, living donation is a “big ask,” but people are more open to that “big give” than they would think.

Q: What do you hope to see in the future of CKD?

A: One of the biggest issues in CKD is that even if we had an unlimited number of kidneys to give to people in need, there are still so many patients, who, by the time they get to us, are no longer transplant candidates. Many people have other chronic but preventable conditions that affect not only their kidneys but the rest of their body. I’m not only an advocate for living kidney donation but also for access to quality, affordable preventive care so that people can better manage their health to limit [CKD] and improve transplant outcomes.

Q: What do you want others to know about living kidney donation?

A: In life, we don't get many chances to do something good. Being a living kidney donor is a way to save and change someone's life even if it is someone we don't know. We donate our money and time to causes we believe in, so why not donate our health if we’re able to? I’ve walked the walk, so to speak, and I’m not asking people to consider doing something I haven't done myself. Living donation is not something healthy people often think about or even know about. Now that I have been through the process, I want more people to understand how doable it is. I never thought about sharing my good health, but what a blessing it has been.