One Less Kidney, But Double the Determination with CKO

June 28, 2018
​When I was originally asked to write this, I thought it was going to be easy because I’ve shared my story so many times over the years with others. Turns out I was wrong. I didn’t know where to start because at the age of 30, so much of my life has gone by and yet, so much only started 4 ½ years ago when I made the decision to join CKO Kickboxing. That one decision has led to so many life changes that have affected who I am today.

I’m amazed at the importance of life choices and how one can impact another and make connections we never thought were possible. I was 260 pounds in 2011 and while the scale hit an all-time high, I hit an all-time low. After my niece’s first birthday, I decided to make some changes. I lost 60 pounds over the next two years but still felt shame going to the gym. In September of 2013 I joined CKO in Edison and lost more than just weight; I lost the concept of giving up. While I’ve had my challenges and setbacks like most occasionally do, I have yet to walk away from kickboxing and I doubt I ever will.

Last year threw some changeups my way; I found out that my uncle needed a kidney transplant and was seeking a living donor. When it comes to helping others, I’m often the first to volunteer if I feel I can do something to help. I was well educated on kidney donation at the time so I sent in my paperwork and waited to be called. The waiting process turned out to be a very stressful time for me and so I turned to CKO for guidance and distraction. There is always someone there to encourage and motivate me. If I wasn’t at home or at work, I was in the gym.

By June I had started my testing and evaluation for living donation. I was not a match for my uncle, but I was introduced to the Paired Exchange Program at St. Barnabas in Livingston which would match my uncle and me with different individuals who did not match one another. Think of it as donor swap: I’ll donate to your person if you donate to mine. I spent the summer and fall preparing my body and mind for possible surgery. My Edison team (Charles, Mike and Roy) led the way with encouragement and constant support as I battled difficult days, impatience, and the desire to push as hard as I could.

At the end of October I received a phone call from the hospital with a November 7th surgery date. Now it was real, and it was going to be happening in three weeks. All I could think about was getting in as many classes as possible before surgery because I did not know how long I was going to be without it. In four years I hadn’t missed more than ten days in a row. When the surgeon asked if I had any questions, I only had one: “How long before I’ll be able to kickbox?” His reply was 4-6 weeks, but to take it slow and ease back into things. My kidney was going to be removed by cutting through my stomach muscle so I was not going to be allowed to use my core at all as it healed.

The next three weeks went by quick and the next thing I knew it was the day before surgery. I was told to go about a normal routine, which of course meant taking class after work. I walked in for the 7:00 class that Mike was going to be teaching. I told him in advance that it was going to be my last class before surgery, so he promised to make it special. When I kickbox, nothing else matters. For 60 minutes my worries are set aside and my focus is on the combinations being called out. As I looked at the clock, I didn’t want class to end; but I knew time was running out. Before the last attack rounds began, Mike told the class I was donating my kidney to a stranger tomorrow and asked them to help me leave everything on the bags one last time before surgery. With each round, a different instructor/member/friend joined me on the yellow, instructor bag and pushed me as hard as possible. In less than twelve hours I was going to be admitted as a surgical patient. I was out of breath, covered in sweat, and happier than I had ever been. I realized how special my gym and all the people there were to me. It’s so rare to find a place and a group of people that care so much about one another. CKO changed my perspective on the gym atmosphere but also changed me as a person. It’s why I wasn’t afraid to donate my kidney. I knew that they would be waiting for me when I came back with the same expectations that I have for myself: to work hard, no excuses.

The night of June 11th, I got to meet other members of my kidney paired donation chain. The dinner honored the first 15 pairs of the chain, and the hospital shared that the chain continues to grow. Currently, our chain has reached 23 pairs-46 individuals who are now linked together for life, and it is still going strong, with more surgeries scheduled. I never thought saying yes to help my uncle would have such a HUGE and remarkable impact. Our chain is the largest living kidney donor chain by a single hospital in the country. I am honored and humbled by this experience. It has truly changed my life.

CKO has been such an important piece to my story; especially my recovery. I live a different life because of everything they have given me in only 4 ½ years: confidence, strength, friendships, and the belief that I have it within me to do whatever it takes to reach my goals. I’ve taken more than 800 classes and have asked probably eight thousand questions, all of which have been answered. This is a family that has stuck with me through every strength and every struggle; every success and every setback.

It’s been seven months since I donated my kidney. I listened to the doctors as best as I could and I waited three weeks and six days before taking my first class with one kidney (I had to work off all the sweets I craved while being sidelined). I was able to do that because I had most of the gym watching my every move, reminding me to take it slow. I’ll be honest: it hasn’t been easy finding that same consistency as I did before, but I’m determined to work hard and find a way around my obstacles. I may have limits, but my limits are not excuses.

-Lauren Mortenson