Sharing the Gift of Life: My Personal Journey

After donating her kidney, Donna Niro, Senior Manager Tissue Collection, North America, Global Industrial Affairs, shares how the journey she took in donating her own kidney led to a career in collecting important tissue that helps transplant patients.

I did my research. I asked doctors endless questions and listened carefully, as if my life depended on it. I knew all the possible risks and understood what could go wrong. Although I was overwhelmed, I was also prepared and deeply confident that my decision to be an organ donor was the right thing to do. Quite simply, I felt called to donate a kidney to a stranger.

In 2002, my husband Jeff and I were raising four school-aged children, ages 4 to 12. Jeff shared news that one of his colleagues, Ken, was in need of a transplant. I met Ken only once, but I felt connected to him as a parent because I knew he had two children of his own. I wondered, “What if that were me?” In that moment, I suddenly found myself wanting to help Ken, so I got tested to see if I could be his donor.

It turned out I was a perfect match.

Eighteen years later, my altruistic donation continues to shape my life, as well as the lives of those around me. The road to recovery was not an easy one. Despite the challenges I experienced, others in my life were inspired to give. After my donation, a dear friend of mine was inspired to donate part of her liver to a friend in need of transplant. Even my three daughters wanted to do something special for those in need and donated their hair several times for wigs for cancer patients.

My personal experience as an organ donor and the joy I saw in others who also made this life-altering choice fueled the passion I have for my work at Sanofi – a career that involves the collection of thymus tissue that helps thousands of kidney transplant patients.

Thymus tissue is typically discarded as medical waste during pediatric open-heart surgeries. This tissue contains very important T-cells that are the fighter cells of the human immune system. My job is to manage the Thymus Collection program in North America – from identifying centers and contracting, to training, inventory management, and logistics – to provide this critical raw material for a Sanofi medicine that helps prevent and treats acute rejection in kidney transplants. My work is demanding but fulfilling. As a living donor, I know what transplant patients are going through.

I am proud to be a part of Sanofi’s transplant team, which works tirelessly on behalf of our patients. In addition to our medicine, I am also grateful for the benefits Sanofi provides to employees who are considering live organ donation. A company that supports their employees, especially with the critical post-surgery recovery, is invaluable so it’s no surprise we have been recognized as part of the American Society of Transplantation (AST) Living Donor Circle of Excellence.

Until I was confronted with someone in my life’s orbit in dire need of transplant, I had never imagined being a living donor. I admit that the testing, preparation, surgery and recovery posed a challenging time for me and my family. Yet on the day of the transplant, I was eerily calm and at peace knowing that I was about to have a profound impact on Ken’s life. I understand that organ donation is not for everyone, but for me, it is a decision I will never regret.