ZEELAND, Mich. — A West Michigan man is at home recovering after having one of his kidneys removed Tuesday morning. That kidney has since been transplanted into somebody else's body in California, but their identity will remain a mystery to the donor until six months from now.
25-year-old Jacob Van Singel found himself, like so many others, frustrated over the pandemic with his inability to control his surroundings. He was constantly contemplating how he might be able to help others in need.
“I had, like, been in a little bit of a slump, feeling like there was no way that I could make the world a better place,” Van Singel told FOX 17 Friday afternoon.
“There was this helplessness that I felt of not being able to address the social injustices, the political unrest, COVID.”
It was late last year when he was driving on US-31 and spotted a vehicle with a bumper sticker that caught his eye.
Share your spare, it read, encouraging others to consider donating their spare kidney.
"Later that week, I just kept thinking about it, and it kept coming back into my mind," he said.
"And I started thinking about, like, there's people out there that are desperate enough for kidneys that they're putting it on their bumper stickers, and they're asking anyone and everyone to help."
He kicked the idea around in his head for several weeks, speaking with family and friends who had loved ones donate organs before.
"It felt like one way that I could just tangibly help and give back, which I think I had been looking for,” Van Singel said.
He signed up to become a nondirected living kidney donor — which means that he donated a kidney to a complete stranger and won't be told their identity until six months from now.
"It didn't really bother me knowing that I wasn't going to personally know the person that I was helping; it almost felt like a another opportunity to help the person that most needed it," he said.
The person who received Van Singel's kidney matched to only 0.02% of the population.
Dr. Randall Sung, a transplant surgeon at Michigan Medicine, says that random organ donations were fairly uncommon until recently.
"It wasn't common maybe 10 to 15 years ago, and when people first started to express interest in doing that, we kind of raised our eyebrows and said, 'Okay... are these people, you know, in their right mind to want to do something like that?'" he explained to FOX 17.
"But it definitely is a lot more common than it used to be, and... I'd say that's a good reflection on our society that people are willing to do that.
FOX 17 spoke to Van Singel the night before his surgery.
“I’ve felt really at peace about it, and I'm hoping that's a good omen for the operation tomorrow,” he said over Zoom Monday night.
“I feel super blessed to be a small piece of something way bigger than myself.”
Luckily, for all involved, the surgery was a success.
As soon as his kidney was removed, it was flown to UCLA in California, where it was placed into the recipient's body.
They don't just throw the loose kidney in the mail. Dr. Randall Sung explained, “There's a courier service, and they actually get sent on commercial airlines.”
As Van Singel sat in a hospital bed recovering from the surgery, he recorded a series of short video diaries.
"I slept in short spurts last night," he said in a video he recorded the day after his surgery.
“Overall, pain is at like level three or level four... It's okay when I'm just sitting here, but every time I get up, it's still got some pain.”
Even in his discomfort, the person receiving his kidney was on the top of his mind.
“We heard from UCLA last night, which is the hospital that the recipient is at, and as of right now, the kidney was successfully transferred to the recipient and they're responding well to it," he said in another video.
He is now back at home, with at least another week and a half of recovery time before he returns to his job at Steelcase.
Through the entire experience, Van Singel says he still believes the decision to become a living donor was right for him.
Van Singel was a donor through Mercy Health's Living Kidney Donor Program.
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