Courtesy photo: Bobby McLaughlin donated his kidney to a stranger through UW Medicine on Jan. 2.
Courtesy photo: Bobby McLaughlin donated his kidney to a stranger through UW Medicine on Jan. 2.

The day after New Year’s, Bobby McLaughlin gave his kidney to a stranger.

 He isn't stopping there.

“I've been fortunate and blessed to have good health, and when kidney donation crossed my path, it very clearly to me was the thing to do,” McLaughlin said. “It was going to help a ton of people. It started a chain at UW for multiple recipients.”

This chain is made when a family member wants to donate a kidney to another family member, but the donor is not a match, however, they are compatible with another patient. This way, the family member's donation will be used as part of a chain for other potential recipients.

McLaughlin said when someone donates a kidney, it helps more than just the person needing the donation.

“It helps their spouses, their kids, their extended families, their friends,” he said. “It's not a, ‘I give you my kidney and you're good,’ right? It's got a bigger reach than that, but I can do more. I want to do more. I want to help people.”

McLaughlin wants to help raise awareness of the need for more kidney donors. He said this kind of advocacy is just as powerful as monetary donations, if not more so, because spreading awareness of the need for kidney donations could lead to more people being inspired to donate.

It’s how McLaughlin found out about the need.

Now, he plans to take his advocacy to the Grand Canyon.

“As an avid outdoor adventurer, a kidney advocate, and someone who wants to help as many people as possible, I have chosen to combine a few of my 'loves…'" McLaughlin said. “On the first weekend in September, I will embark on a huge undertaking, in part to help bring awareness to kidney donation, and hopefully help some of those on the national waitlist receive the kidney they so desperately need."

This huge undertaking was inspired by a trip he and some friends took to the Grand Canyon back in spring 2007.

“Two years ago, I set out on an adventure with a local friend as we completed a R3 — a rim-to-rim-to-rim one-day trek,” McLaughlin said. “We started on the south rim, hiked our way to the bottom of the canyon, up to the north rim, then turned around and returned to the south rim. For us that day it was a 47-mile adventure."

Now, to help supply the roughly 94,000 people on the waiting list, he wants to embark on an even greater journey.

This is the 100th anniversary of Grand Canyon National Park, which McLaughlin said is the perfect year to complete another R3 while raising the awareness that could lead to more kidney donations.

“So, in looking at the route, it dawned on me that if I completed a double R3, it would be 94 miles, which ironically is one mile for each 1,000 people on the waitlist.”

McLaughlin said those wanting to give shouldn't be afraid, because the medical professionals doing his surgery made the process incredibly easy for him, given the fact that it does take some time.

“It's a pretty extensive work-up ahead of time — it's about 14 hours of testing, valuations and things of that nature,” he said. “Surgery day, you walk in ready to get yourself cut open, and it was actually super easy."

He said the staff at UW Medicine were top-notch — everyone from those at the reception desk to the operating table. He even called his surgeon a "super-cool dude." The staff answered all of his questions, explaining everything ahead of time.

McLaughlin spoke to multiple former donors prior to his surgery, and they told him the medical staff at any hospital will give donors another chance to opt out of their surgeries right before they begin, but he joked that the anesthesia worked so well that he doesn't remember being asked; he's sure he was.

“In the prep area, my sister was there with me, and I remember getting wheeled down the hallway really only about 30 yards, and then I only have one recollection in the operating room of seeing the overhead lights, cause my buddy does the lighting there,” he said. “And so I recognized that, but that's it.”

As McLaughlin readies himself for the coming adventure, he said people can follow him on Facebook at Bobby McLaughlin and on Instagram at fourseasonadventures to receive updates on the trip, including coverage of the double R3 hike, and the opportunity to direct message McLaughlin about how to get involved with the organization that he’s part of: Kidney Donor Athletes.

He said the ways in which the trip will directly impact kidney donation candidates are still unfolding.

“It's a work in progress, as everything is on the advocacy side of things…" McLaughlin said. “There's a story to share that's going to impact somebody, whether I know that or not. I'm pretty aware now, as we share our stories, they hit somebody down the line that's going to have some impact.”