Calgarian has no regrets over anonymous kidney donation

Earl had to go.

While waiting for an appointment with her transplant co-ordinator last year, Jody Horvath took the unusual tack of naming her kidneys Earl and Pearl.

“A friend and I were texting each other when she suggested I give them names,” the vivacious 24-year-old says with a laugh. So, in homage to that Dixie Chicks song of a few years back, she named one Earl and the other Pearl, knowing that by year’s end, Earl would be long gone.

“I don’t know why I named them, just something to do,” she adds.

“I have two, someone else needs one – simple as that,” she says as we chat at the local offices of the Kidney Foundation of Canada.

“It was an easy decision, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

From Sept. 9 to 11, Horvath will be among the 300 marchers making the 100-kilometre trek from Kananaskis Country to Calgary, in the second annual Kidney March ( put on by the foundation.

The event will raise money for kidney disease research – a disease that is irreversible, killing thousands of Canadians each year – as well as increasing awareness of organ donation programs.

“I can do the walk easily, I’m in great physical condition,” says Horvath, who underwent transplant surgery last November. “I was out of hospital four days after the operation – and I’ve had so many tests done on me, I know for certain that I am incredibly healthy.”

The seeds for such a rare gesture – the bulk of kidney donors are family members or close friends of someone in need – were sowed a few years ago when Horvath was a student at the University of Lethbridge studying history and marketing. While donating blood, she was told by a nurse about plasma donation programs.

“I began to research the different types of donor programs out there and came across kidney donation,” says the native Edmontonian who now calls Calgary home. “I’m a bit of a research nerd, so I read everything I could about kidney donation.”

What she discovered was that a kidney from a live donor, rather than one extracted from a deceased person, has a better chance of thriving for its recipients.

Together with Lukacs, her husband of two years whom Horvath credits with “being behind me 100 per cent,” she looked into the risk factors involved. She found that there were some, especially for a young woman who hoped to have her own children one day, but that they were minimal.

“The slightly increased chance for me having problems just wasn’t enough to outweigh the benefits my kidney would have for someone else,” says Horvath, who plans on having two children down the road. “My mom was also very supportive, but she would have preferred if I’d waited until after we had our kids.”

Since donating her kidney, Horvath has left her job at another non-profit and joined the southern Alberta branch of the Kidney Foundation, working in peer support and managing volunteer resources.

Michelle Simpson, the coordinator of community outreach for the foundation in Calgary, says her new colleague is indeed a rare gem.

“There are three other anonymous donors we know of locally,” says Simpson. “People like Jody are few and far between, and their incredible generosity is so inspiring.”

So, does Horvath ever get curious about which recipient – it could be anyone on the national registry – received her healthy, young kidney?

“I don’t want to know,” she says. “I have this image in my mind of someone who has a family and is taking good care of the kidney.

It would be hard to know if they weren’t taking care of it.”

Still, she says she is heartened when she meets other recipients, something that happens regularly now that she’s on staff with the foundation.

“When I see them living their lives, being able to work and play and spend time with their families without being chained to dialysis,” she says, “it tells me I made the right decision.”

Horvath knows that her positive experience in donating a kidney to someone she’ll never meet isn’t for everyone. “It is a very, very personal decision,” she says.

“But I hope it at least inspires others to support what we do.”

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