Eldonna Edwards: living kidney donor

Karen HandelmanDonation Stories

Eldonna donated to a stranger, but she gained a dear friend.

Eldonna donated to a stranger, but she gained a dear friend

San Luis Obispo, CA — When Eldonna Edwards went back to college at age 48, she never expected that the biggest lesson would be one that can’t be learned in a classroom. A chance meeting with a young woman with kidney disease ended up setting Eldonna on a path she never planned to take. Upon learning of her classmate’s probable fate, Eldonna offered to donate a kidney but the student turned her down, partly because she wasn’t ready and partly due to outdated rules that prohibited non-related donors at most hospitals.

After discovering that people were dying due to outdated hospital policies that prohibited unrelated donors, Eldonna decided to write a class paper arguing for obvious changes that needed to be made in a broken system. The more research she did, the more determined she became to be part of the solution – to put her kidney where her mouth was, so to speak. “I couldn’t change the world,” Eldonna noted, “but I could change one person’s world.”

While writing her paper, Eldonna stumbled upon a website featuring heartbreaking profiles of patients needing donors. She felt a special connection with one of those people – a hospice nurse and new grandmother – and offered to be tested as her living donor. Eldonna’s story took a lot of unexpected twists and turns, but four years later her kidney started a chain of transplants that began in San Francisco and ended in Chicago or San Diego—she is still not sure how far the dominoes eventually toppled.

In the beginning, Eldonna didn’t speak of her kidney donation except to close friends and family because she worried it would move the focus off the people on the waiting list. By that time she’d witnessed firsthand the suffering of those who undergo dialysis month after month, year after year, in hopes of getting a kidney that might not come in time to save them. Eventually Eldonna realized that her discomfort was nothing compared to the suffering that kidney patients and their families experience on a daily basis. “To me, these were the real heroes,” Eldonna said. “And by not sharing my story I’d lose a huge opportunity to educate people about the tragic shortage of organs and hopefully inspire altruism in others.”

Eldonna made a 180 degree turn and ended up writing a book about her experience – Lost in Transplantation: Memoir of an Unconventional Organ Donor – and participating in an award-winning documentary Perfect Strangers. Eldonna now travels the country speaking about living donation and cultivating kindness in one’s community. In other words, what started out as a compassionate response to a single individual has blossomed into a far-reaching connection with a multitude of wonderful people she now calls her friends. “If you ask me,” she says, “the gift I received was greater than the one I gave.”