Skip Sturtz had planned to spend his retirement running marathons and pursuing his passion for art, which sounds like a robust agenda to us. But Skip felt a stirring to do more. "I had a dream of doing something significant, something that would be life-changing for someone," he tells Plymouth Magazine. That dream came true last year when Skip donated a kidney to a stranger. He recently sat down with Mayo Clinic Radio hosts Tom Shives, M.D., and Tracy McCray to discuss donation and answer the question posed by Dr. Shives early in the interview: "What possessed you to give a kidney to someone you don't know?"
Skip traces the decision back 20 years, when he first learned about organ donation through a co-worker who donated a kidney to his son. Skip was intrigued and afterward found himself captivated by other stories of donation. "Anytime I would hear a kidney donor's story, it would stick in my head," he says. A decade later, Skip told his wife, "I think I could donate a kidney someday." But someday never seemed to come. "There was always a reason not to act," Skip tells Mayo Clinic Radio. "I like to run. We were working hard. We were raising our family." Donation remained an idea Skip was drawn to, but not ready to pursue.
Then Skip retired. He began working with a mentor who helps people discover "what was important to them in their life following their career," Skip tells Dr. Shives and McCray. "That's when the idea kind of really started to stick with me." When he learned a friend and fellow marathoner had donated a kidney, it was just "the kick in the pants" Skip needed. He reached out to Mayo Clinic and began the process of becoming a nondirected living donor, also called an altruistic donor. After passing a series of tests, Skip was cleared to donate. And on Nov. 5, 2018, he gave the gift of life to a 74-year-old mother and grandmother in Florida.
Skip tells Mayo Clinic Radio that he thought "the crescendo would be the donation." But he's since found "that was only the start." He's become a passionate advocate for donation, sharing his story and letting people know that donating "didn't compromise my life." He's returned to his other retirement pursuits, even qualifying for the 2020 Boston Marathon. Still, he acknowledges that donation isn't for everyone. "You just have to feel it within," Skip says. For him, that feeling was guided by a favorite Bible verse: "Each man should give what he decides in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."
Altruistic donors may be the most cheerful givers of all. According to Dr. Shives, researchers have studied the brains of donors like Skip and found two things: "Their brains are bigger by about 9 percent," he says, and they're also likely to have "a large amygdala," which is "the area of the brain that controls compassion." And that's something the world could use more of. "There are now 100,000 people in this country who are waiting for a kidney," Dr. Shives says. "Thank goodness for people like Skip Sturtz." (We couldn't agree more.)
Show us a little compassion by leaving a comment below before using the handy social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.