When Tiffiny Mitchell was in her late 20s, a close friend needed a kidney transplant, but she wasn’t a match.
The experience left an impression on her. “I was going to do this for somebody that I really knew and loved myself,” the state representative said. “Why would I not do that for somebody else ... even if I didn’t know them?”
Donate Life Northwest, an Oregon nonprofit, will announce Tuesday that Mitchell will donate a kidney, helping to “draw much-needed attention to living donation.”
The Astoria Democrat, who is up for reelection next year, is preparing to take time off after her surgery in October. The procedure has an expected recovery time of four to six weeks.
Mitchell was a chief sponsor, with state Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, of a new state law that helps provide job security for organ donors by making it a procedure protected by the state’s Family Leave Act.
It was during the process that Mitchell told Donate Life Northwest she was interested in donating an organ.
“Most people don’t have the ability to take four to six weeks off to do something like this,” she said. “If we can eliminate those barriers to where this can actually be a reality for folks, my hope is more people take advantage of that opportunity.”
Although Mitchell will not personally benefit from the law, which takes effect in January, it’s something she wants to make available for others.
Her donation is part of a paired exchange program, which allows people to swap kidneys among, in her case, three pairs of people who want to donate but are incompatible with the person they want to help.
“So there’s three people who are going to get an organ out of this and to me that’s incredibly exciting to know it’s not just one organ, it’s not just mine, it’s three different people are going to benefit,” she said.
Although she doesn’t know any of the recipients, she is excited for them and their families, and hopes she gets the opportunity to meet them after the surgeries.
According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, about 113,000 people are waiting for organ transplants, including about 890 in Oregon.
“Statistically, for every year a person is on dialysis, they lose about five years off their life expectancy. It breaks my heart to think about the child who may lose their parent early, or the person that loses their spouse to kidney disease,” Mitchell wrote in a Facebook post announcing her decision.
“If just 1 in every 10,000 people made the choice to donate altruistically — we could help to erase the list of people waiting for an organ in the United States.”
As far as the medical concerns associated with organ donation, Mitchell, 35, said there is a lot of work done on the front end to make sure the donor is a good candidate for the surgery.
“They are very open with you in saying that there is a potential for complications, as there always is with any major surgery,” she said.
“There is the potential that down the road if the other kidney goes then you’re in trouble there. But they actually do a lot of work beforehand, and a lot of testing to make sure that the person who is donating is very healthy and the least likely type of person to develop kidney disease themselves down the road.”
Mitchell encourages people to look into whether they are good candidates for organ donation. Above all, she said being able to give that gift to somebody and their family is “tremendously impactful.”
“My hope is that through this experience and through publicly talking about it and undergoing it myself that it’s something that people themselves will seriously consider in terms of deciding, yeah, this is something I would be willing to do,” she said.