MOSHI, Tanzania — March 10 is known as World Kidney Day, For the nonprofit organization Kidney Donor Athletes, it’s the day a group sets out each year to summit Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
This year, two women from New England were selected to embark on this journey. But, before the climb, their journeys started with a kidney donation.
Samantha Carreiro of Dover, New Hampshire, said she lost a friend in high school who was in need of a bone marrow transplant. After that happened, being a donor has always weighed on her mind. Then, one day she overheard her favorite spin instructor talking about his need for a kidney.
“I looked at him and I said, ‘What?!’ and he kind of filled me in, and I said, ‘I got you!’ and I just knew I was going to be his match,” Carreiro said.
As luck would have it, Carreiro turned out to be his match. She was all in.
The surgery was scheduled for March 17, 2020, at Maine Medical Center. Just 12 hours before she was supposed to be in the operating room, she got the call that the surgery had been canceled because the hospital had just admitted its first COVID-19 patient.
Despite moments of doubt, wondering if it was a sign she should back out, Carreiro said she would wait until the hospital began to accept transplant surgeries again. That July, the surgery happened, and it was a success.
“I felt complete peace,” Carreio said. “I knew that [with] my lifestyle, I would be able to maintain.”
Kristyn Nordfors of Brewer, Maine, was in an operating room at Maine Medical Center doing the same thing just one month later. Nordfors said she saw a social media post about a boy in Bangor who needed a kidney, and her blood type was the perfect match.
“He was 6 at the time. He just turned 8. And he’s back at school and doing great, and I’m doing great,” Nordfors said.
Speaking of being a match, Nordfors and Carreiro connected through the Kidney Donor Athletes Facebook group. They each had applied to be part of the annual One Kidney Climb this year, and both were selected along with 20 others from across the country.
The two decided to be roommates and tentmates throughout the journey. For weeks they discussed their workouts and packing plans to prepare for the trip.
“For people like Kristyn and I, there are tall mountains around us but nothing like Kilimanjaro,” Carreiro said.
At 19,341 feet, Kilimanjaro is the highest single free-standing mountain above sea level in the world.
It took the women about two days just to travel to Tanzania, and then the hike began.
“It’s eight days total. Really, it’s like 6 1/2 days up and a day and a half down. So you take your time going up to acclimate,” Nordfors said. “We’re taking the longest route, which gives the best chance of success because you have more time to acclimate to the elevation.”
The group successfully reached their goal of making it to the summit on World Kidney Day, March 10, posting frequent updates on Facebook along the way. This feat, to them, was a clear demonstration of how life can go on strong after donating a kidney.
“You can do really cool things and still help other people in such a huge way,” Carreiro said.
“This is something you can do and go on to be active and healthy and with no limits, really,” Nordfors said.
To learn more about being a kidney donor, click here.