By Sheri Grunska
However, I got a fresh perspective and renewed appreciation for what really matters when I donated one of my kidneys to a dear friend who has also been a longtime boarder.
Out of Time
I now realize it’s about so much more than the horses we care for. This story started a long time ago for my friend Cheryl. She had been waiting for a kidney for almost six years, and time was running out.
She is one of those people that lights up a room when she walks in, and you would never know that she had been sick unless she told you. She never complained at all. She has incredible humor and has stayed positive under such tough circumstances with her health.
I had known she was sick for a very long time, but it didn’t hit me until this last year when she wasn’t able to make it out to the barn. It was all too much for her physically.
This last winter, I started to think about kidney donation, and I started to ask questions to find out more about it. I had talked to another friend of Cheryl’s that tried to donate but was not able to.
After talking with my husband, I decided to talk with Cheryl and ask her about it. She gave me some paperwork to read and then I could decide if I should pursue it. During the early stages of learning about kidney donation, my barn and business were also going through some huge changes.
After much prayer, I decided to apply to be a kidney donor for Cheryl. I would have to go down to Froedtert Hospital for an all-day evaluation, and I would need to pass blood tests and every other test to make sure I was healthy enough to donate. I knew I could stop the process at any time, but I thought I would go there and learn more about the surgery.
The first appointment was a 12-hour day with several other trips to Froedtert hospital over the next couple of weeks. While all this was going on, I was also trying to run my barn and deal with the changes that were coming fast.
We had a trainer leave to start her own business, and many people followed her, along with all her training horses. Overnight, our barn became almost half empty, and I started to panic about money and the loss of income.
Here I was in the middle of this kidney testing to see if I was a match and could donate, and I was also dealing with the unknown for the business. I knew that if I was approved to be a kidney donor for Cheryl, I would be out of commission for many weeks, and it would be too stressful trying to fill the stalls back up and rest my body at the same time.
Everything hit me at once, and it became overwhelming. I finally had to stop and let go of trying to solve everything. Things started to come together after that. I was approved to be a kidney donor, and I was a perfect match for Cheryl!
My husband and I decided to leave the barn empty until the fall so I could go forward with the surgery. With that decision, I finally had this wonderful peace that it would all work out. And it did.
On July 19, 2017, Cheryl and I had our surgeries at the same time. We both woke up many hours later with people who love us by our side. The surgery was a success, and the next week would consist of sleeping, pain pills and trying not to laugh because it hurt so much.
I witnessed my dear friend starting to heal as the toxins were being taken out of her body, and my kidney never skipped a beat. It started working immediately, and the color in Cheryl’s face came back quickly. I saw life coming back to her, and by the next day, she could feel a huge difference.
A Common Bond
We talked horses to all the attending nurses and doctors, and when they would ask how we knew each other, horses were the common bond, and from there our friendships grew. It was so cool to see how many people love horses and love to talk about them.
Each day we both became stronger, and we had many short walks to each others’ rooms at all hours of the day and night. I watched Cheryl eating foods that she had not been allowed to eat for the last six years, and the joy on her face was wonderful to see. We experienced every emotion possible over the week we were at the hospital, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
I know now this was all meant to be, and I am the lucky one to be able to be part of it. It’s still surreal to me when I think about my kidney living and working in her body—but what an incredible feeling!
I realize now that horses and our crazy love for them opens many doors that we are not expecting. If we’re ready to look beyond what’s right in front of us, that’s when get to experience so much more.
I know it will be a long while before Cheryl is riding, but when she does, I’m sure I will be crying all over again as I watch her doing what she loves to do. This is the part of this business I love the most.
I still greatly enjoy the horses and being around them daily, but I also love the people who board at my barn and have made it their barn home. I want to also send out a huge thank you to all of our boarders and employees for taking care of the barn while I was at the hospital. They kept things running smoothly. What a fantastic team we have working here.
Life is so good. A half-empty barn, a kidney donation, and much-needed time to rest and heal. Horses will bring us together, but that is only the beginning. Get ready for the ride of your life!
It’s been three months since I donated my kidney to Cheryl. We’re both doing great and I’m back at the barn working full-time. Cheryl is doing wonderfully, and has been cleared to come out to the barn and groom her two horses, Chief and Shadow.
She ordered a new saddle for Chief, and as soon as the doctors give her the OK to ride, she’ll be back in the saddle. Coming out to the barn and being with her horses rejuvenates her, and she’s excited that her future will include her horses.
People have asked me how I feel now that I’ve gone through surgery and recovery, and I can honestly say I feel better now—probably because I’m taking much better care of myself.
It was an honor to be part of such an incredible journey, and it all started with the love of horses.
This article originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!