The world's second largest transplant chain, started in Memphis with Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy, has another Memphis link. Memphis Musician Kirk Whalum's daughter, Courtney Whalum, was also a donor.
"Silly me I'm raising my hand, ‘Well, yeah I'll do this,' and God the whole time is going ‘Silly little girl, I have much bigger plans for you,'" says Courtney.
Courtney originally wanted to be a kidney donor for her best friend's brother, Anthon Khare. His first kidney transplant was at age 14; Courtney recalls, "That kidney lasted for 14 years and then his body started to reject it."
Family members were not a match and anonymous donors disappeared after their commitment, so Courtney stepped up. She wasn't an exact match for Khare so she registered as an altruistic donor, swapping her kidney to a recipient whose donor was a match for Khare.
Courtney thought she was going to help two people – Khare and whoever received her kidney. She received a phone call before her surgery saying that her donation helped set off a chain of 16 kidney transplants. That was humbling enough for her, but she later learned 28 people received transplants in this chain.
"There really are no words," says Courtney. "This was something that God had called me to do. To wake up every morning and say, ‘Well, what's my purpose in life?' So I know this was it; this is what I was put here to do this."
Not everyone supported her calling at first.
"I was really surprised when I started getting feedback and people were, like, ‘You have a child and what if your son needs a kidney transplant? Or what if someone in your family needs a transplant down the line? And this isn't even a member of your family,'" says Courtney.
She says her family was also skeptical, adding that they were worrying if she would live through the surgery to have a healthy life.
"My father who accompanied me to California for the surgery, he didn't say it but I know he was terrified, I know he was terrified about the entire process," she recalls, "But afterwards he was just beaming."
She's now using this opportunity to let others know what it means to be an organ donor, especially an altruistic donor, and help end the living donation shortage.
"Nothing's more gratifying to me than having people … I've gotten it through Instagram, through Facebook, I've had friends of friends of friends who have come to me and ask me really probing question and just getting that 'ah ha' moment," says Courtney.
Look back at Courtney's kidney donation journey on her Facebook page, 'I'm Leaving My Kidney in Cali,' and feel free to ask her questions about becoming an altruistic kidney donor.
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