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Keith Hardy

Lucky to Be Chosen: A Living Kidney Donor's Journey

What really blew me away was that I was one of the people who was accepted. It made me think of all the people who want to donate and can’t. It made me feel lucky that I could do that.

Keith Hardy

Sitting quietly in his blue plaid shirt and comfortable jeans, Keith Hardy seems like an average kind of guy. But looks can be deceiving. A rare find among human beings, Keith is the type of person who goes up to a stranger at a restaurant and offers to buy them lunch.

“People look at you like, ‘Why?’” Keith says. “It just makes me so happy. I don’t want anything in return. If I can’t afford to buy you lunch, then I probably shouldn’t be going out to lunch either. It’s that simple.”

But Keith has gone far beyond paying for a stranger’s meal. In February 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, he gave the gift of life to someone he’d never met. Keith donated a kidney. 

“The way the world is now, there’s so much bad news going on. I just wanted to be in control of something I could do to help someone,” he says. “I’ve had some people say to me, ‘How could you consider doing this during the pandemic?’ I thought the need doesn’t go away because of other things going on. That was never going to stand in my way.

“There was no better time,” he says. “I thought If I don’t donate, who will?”

Getting in Shape to Donate

Keith, who lives with his wife Teri in Swansea, Illinois, says the idea of donating a kidney probably started about eight years ago when one of the couple’s close friends died from complications of kidney failure and other health problems. Although the friend wasn’t a candidate for a transplant, Keith believes it made him aware of the dangers of kidney disease and the need for donated organs.

Some years later, Keith, who gave blood on a regular basis, felt like he could do more to help others and began to explore additional options. That’s when he thought about becoming a living organ donor.   

As a result, he began to take the steps necessary to qualify. He joined a yoga class and lost weight.

“I got healthy and that’s when it really started to set in that this was a possibility. Six months after I got in good shape, everything fell into place,” he says.

Keith contacted Barnes-Jewish Hospital at the end of October 2020, expressing his wish to become a donor. He then underwent extensive testing to determine if he was eligible.   

According to statistics compiled by the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center, about a third of all donors who express an interest in donation are evaluated to be a living donor. Of those who start an evaluation at the transplant center, about 20% actually donate. The center performs about 300 kidney transplants a year of which 70 are living donor transplants.

“When I started hearing statistics about the people who approach a facility to donate, and the number of people who can’t, it blew me away. But what really blew me away was that I was one of the people who was accepted,” says Keith, who is 58. “It made me think of all the people who want to donate and can’t. It made me feel lucky that I could do that.”

The Right Thing to Do

Keith, the shop manager at Boyer Fire Protection in St. Louis, received his employer’s support and was able to use yet-to-be accrued vacation time for the transplantation.

“The procedure must have been textbook. I almost feel like what’s the big deal,” says Keith, who went home within 30 hours of the operation.  “I missed 10 days of work and rested on the couch for a couple of days and took it easy and I was back to normal. If someone had it easier than me, I’d like to meet them.”

He praised his surgeon Jason Wellen, MD, MBA, transplant coordinator Amy Rendleman, BSN, RN and the entire team. “It was a very good experience. I couldn’t ask for anything more.” 

Grateful for the treatment he received, Keith and Teri made a gift to the Organ Transplant Innovation Fund at The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital. The fund provides support for pilot projects that fuel future clinical and scientific advancements, allowing physicians to make breakthroughs, engage in translational research and bring discoveries into the practice of medicine. This seed funding helps to finance trials that are crucial to the ability of transplant teams to improve the care of patients and their outcomes.

“We’ve got more than we need,” Keith says about their philanthropic contribution. “I’m not a millionaire but it just seemed like the right thing to do.”

Following his kidney donation, Keith has been spreading the word about the importance of living donations. Although many people sign up to be organ donors on their driver’s licenses, he thinks they mistakenly believe it meets the need. However, in Missouri, there are more than 1,300 people on the kidney transplant waiting list.

Keith wants others to understand they can save lives by giving now. In return, they will experience the indescribable fulfillment that living organ donation brings.

“We’ve all heard it’s better to give than receive and sometimes people just say that. But when you do it, I can’t explain how it feels. It changed me. People ask, ‘What was the greatest day in your life? Was it when your children were born, when you got married or something like that?’ That is certainly true. I have a wonderful wife and wonderful children, but this is different. It just made me feel like I completed something. I did something I wanted to do, and it made me a better person.”