April: Donate Life Month
Kelly, Former YMCA of Broome County Lifeguard/Water Fitness Instructor,
Now A Kidney Transplant Coordinator
My eyes have been opened to the true gift of life, organ donation. On March 23, 2017, I started my dream job as a Kidney Transplant Coordinator at New York Presbyterian-Columbia University Medical Center. I work with people in kidney failure and in need of a kidney. On the first-year anniversary of my employment, I marveled how each prior work experience prepared me for my new career. My first job following high school was lifeguarding at a suburban Rochester YMCA. I held that position while matriculating at a local community college for 2 years. I completed my associates degree and transferred to Binghamton University to pursue a Bachelors in Biology. When I relocated to Binghamton in August of 2009, I applied for a lifeguard position at the Broome County YMCA and was hired. This job provided flexibility and the ability to maintain some financial independence. The CPR training required for this post also added to the skills I needed in my desired career in the medical field.
After serving as a lifeguard for over 3 years, Patty, the Aquatics Director, mentioned a need for water fitness instructors. Though I had never taught a class, I had observed plenty of classes while guarding and knew my somewhat outgoing personality would be a plus. So, I decided to give it a try. I shadowed a seasoned instructor a few times; soon I was having a blast teaching my own class. Of all the time I spent working at the YMCA of Brome County, instructing water fitness classes provide the most valuable experiences for my future. I enjoyed supporting people in healthy decisions and encouraging them as they worked towards their fitness goals. I have since gained a greater understanding of the importance of their wellness commitment; controlling weight, blood pressure and blood sugar levels remain key factors in guarding against kidney damage.
The people skills I acquired through teaching water fitness in a group setting have served me well as I teach classes for potential organ recipients. The interaction with the special people I met at the YMCA gave me amazing insight, especially from their rich life experiences, challenges and advice they freely shared. They helped prepare me for the deeply heart-touching stories of both the donors and recipients, and their families entrusted to my care.
I left Binghamton in the summer of 2011 with my BS and a heavy heart. I found myself back at Binghamton in the summer of 2012 to complete the bachelor’s accelerated nursing track at the Decker School of Nursing. My schedule was too full for the YMCA. I graduated in May 2013 with a second bachelor’s degree; this time in nursing. I worked in a small cardiac hospital in Long Island…until I accepted my Kidney Transplant Coordinator position last March, in New York City. Every day I see people undergoing dialysis and fighting for their lives as they await a kidney. And I watch the sacrifices families make when their loved ones pass and they choose organ donation. This gives the recipient a chance at life and to a chance to carry with them a piece of the person who gave them this second opportunity. It is truly a miracle.
One of the hardest things I see as a Transplant Coordinator is the desperate need for organs. New York State has one of the longest lists of people in need of organs; unfortunately, we have one of the lowest donor registries. 10,000 individuals from New York are on the transplant list, and New Yorkers make up 10% of the waitlist for organ transplants. One organ donor can save up to eight lives! If you think you would like to be a donor, sign up and tell your family members of your decision. It is a chance for you to change someone else’s life in the most amazing way possible. One of the most encouraging things about kidney transplants is, unlike other organs, we can use living donors, such as friends and family. It is a chance to keep someone off of the transplant list and thereby increases the availability of kidneys for patients who do not have a living donor.
Prevention is the greatest cure. Since a significant number of kidney failures result from uncontrolled diabetes and blood pressure, monitor both regularly. Continue workouts at the YMCA, adjust your diet and lose weight, if necessary.
April is Donate Life Month, so if you feel inspired to become an organ donor please sign up! You can find more information and sign up here:
And find more info about Donate Life Month: