Kelly Berwager, a professor of visual arts and art education, recently published a book about her experiences as a living kidney donor.
She started her journey in 2014 when her friend was diagnosed with lupus and needed a kidney. Berwager had never given much thought to being an organ donor, except at times when she renewed her driver’s license. The opportunity to help a friend in need made her think differently.
“We check it on the box, but we never think about it past, ‘Sure, I’ll be an organ donor,’ and then we never think about it again unless something happens,” Berwager said.
After finding out she was not a match for her friend, the medical staff she was working with at UAB asked her to consider donating a kidney to a stranger through the hospital’s donor chain.
“When I found out I was not a match, I was crushed and I didn’t expect that emotion,” she said.
Berwager turned to her Christian faith and prayed for guidance. She decided to move forward with the process and became the 31st donor in a now 204-person donor chain.
“I wish I could say that I would have just done it out of the kindness of my heart, but I don’t know that I would have, because I wouldn’t have had anything to have prompted me to want to do that,” she said.
According to Berwager, the decision of whether a recipient and donor will meet is left up to the recipient to decide, not the donor. Luckily for Berwager, her recipient did want to meet and so they met two days after surgery.
“It was really cool… real interesting to meet her and her family. And she’s doing great and blessed and living a full life now.”
After going through this emotional journey and sharing it with countless friends, she kept getting positive feedback that encouraged her to write a book about her experiences. Although it is written from a Christian perspective, she says it’s a story that anyone can draw inspiration from.
“When I step back from it to go ‘Oh my goodness, look at all the roadblocks and the things that happened throughout the year,’ to me it’s also a story of perseverance and doing something that’s bigger than yourself,” she said. “You know, it wasn’t about me. It was about somebody else that I didn’t even know.”
Berwager has already received overwhelming support for her book – even from the doctors themselves. She had a book signing event in her hometown of Albertville, where her expectation was simply that family and friends would come support her. To her delight, a special guest came and bought 40 books.
“The lead surgeon showed up and surprised me – I had no clue they even knew about it,” Berwager said. “She had actually written a little blurb in the book, so she knew I was writing the book, but it totally shocked me.”
Berwager’s book is titled, “Bridge Donor: The Journey of a Living Organ Donor” and was self-published in November of this year. Click here to listen to the full story.
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