Denver woman donates kidney to complete stranger, saves 6 lives

Sara Martin donated with no strings attached

AURORA, Colo. -- Thirteen people die each day while waiting for a kidney transplant, and while many people consider the idea of donating an organ to a family member or friend, one Denver woman was willing to give her kidney to a total stranger.  

That selfless act helped save six lives.

Sara Martin is one of those kinds of people who are always looking for ways to help others.

"I live in Denver. I work for an area law firm on the policy side," said Martin. "And I just got to thinking there has to be something I can do to help."

She started looking into living organ donation last year, and in April, she had transplant surgery at UCHealth in Aurora.

Martin's kidney went to a 20-year-old woman in California who she never met, and probably never will.

"If she wants to meet me, I'm fine with that, but I don't want there to be any stipulations or for her to feel obligated for any of this," said Martin. "She got a kidney. She is ready for life and to have things be better for herself again. No need to thank me."

Her selfless act caused a ripple effect of so-called "paired donations," donors who weren't matches for their loved-ones, but promised to donate a kidney if a match was found.

Martin's kidney donation to the 20-year-old set in motion a donation to a 3-year-old and four other people across the nation, eventually helping to save six lives.

"An altruistic donor can spike a big chain reaction," said Dr. Monica Grafales with the University of Colorado Hospital's Live Donor program, who said altruistic, or angel, donors are rare and badly needed. "The majority of people we put in the kidney transplant waitlist, many of them die while waiting, because there are just not enough donors. "

Martin said for her, the recovery was not hard. After a few weeks, she said she was back to racing on her bike and felt no different with one kidney versus two.

Ultimately, she said, she feels what she gave was more than worth it for what she received.

"There is not joy attached to things," said Martin. "There is joy attached to helping people, and I have never felt the kind of joy that I've felt through this whole experience."

To learn more about living organ donation, check out the American Transplant Foundation.

UCHealth is hosting "A Night of Champions" dinner Thursday night at Sports Authority at Mile High to honor living donors who have helped saves lives, and Martin will be speaking at the event.

"I'm going to be so moved by everyone that is going to be there, a room full of people who are all living donors that can relate with each other. I'm so excited for it."

The United Network for Organ Sharing states that in Colorado there are 1,650 people on the kidney waitlist.

To learn more about living organ donation, check out the American Transplant Foundation.

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