Holland native and kidney donor to climb Mount Kilimanjaro

Holland native Emily Polet-Monterosso is adamant she is not special. Anyone can donate a kidney, she says, and what is more, they can do more 'fantastic, amazing things' afterwards. To prove it, she's climbing a mountain. 
 
This March, Polet-Monterosso will climb Mount Kilimanjaro with a group of other “one-kidney climbers” from the nonprofit Kidney Donor Athletes. 

'fantastic, amazing things'
 
She wants people to know: “there is nothing you can’t do after a kidney donation.”

“People who donate a kidney are able to do fantastic, amazing things post-donation,” Polet-Monterosso says.
 
At nearly 20,000 feet above sea-level, Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest single free-standing mountain in the world. The dormant volcano is part of Tanzenea’s Kilimanjaro National Park and is a major climbing destination.
 
The climb is expected to take about six days with the team summiting the peak on March 10 — World Kidney Day.
 
Before she considered becoming a kidney donor, Polet-Monterosso wasn’t particularly active. Leading up to the surgery, she started taking better care of her body and exercising more to help aid in her recovery, and the habit stuck.

She lives a normal life. The biggest difference after she donated her kidney to a stranger three years ago is how serious she became about drinking enough water every day.

The Holland-native now lives in metro Detroit where she works for MetroEHS Pediatric Therapy  and is a children’s librarian at the Utica Public Library.

Resource for active donors

Athletes who are considering kidney donation didn’t have a resource to find out how their athletic performance might be affected by the transplant. That’s why The nonprofit Kidney Donor Athletes was formed. KDA now promotes the gift of kidney donation among active individuals and supports 800 members.

Each year, 5,000 living kidney donations are performed in the U.S. However, 100,000 people are on the waiting list. The average wait time is five to eight years.
 
A KDA Gofundme campaign has raised $130,000. Each climber’s expenses will come in at $6,500, although most of that is self-raised. The remaining money will go toward advocacy and awareness projects, Polet-Monterosso says.

Polycystic kidney disease

The idea of kidney transplants kept coming into Polet-Monterosso’s life. Someone she knew needed a transplant and received one from a stranger. A freshman who came into the college admissions office where Polet-Monterosso worked was coming off a gap year she had to take before a transplant gave her the chance at a normal college experience. Then, by chance, Polet-Monterosso’s sister shared a post that was going viral. It was a photo of a sign on the back of someone’s car. It read, “Single dad of three needs type O kidney” and a phone number.

She called.

The single dad — Ryan Stanford — had a genetic condition called polycystic kidney disease. The cysts were taking over his kidneys, causing them to fail. 
 
From that first phone call in August 2018 to the transplant in January 2019, Polet-Monterosso kept telling herself if it isn’t meant to be, she will be flagged at the next stage. Every time, she was a perfect match.

'Anyone can do this'

A medical team at Henry Ford Health System handled the transplant procedure.

As soon as the match met final approval, the pair met up. They soon became friends, connected in a way few are. Eventually, Polet-Monterosso and her husband attended Stanford’s wedding.

“He regained his health immediately,” she says. “I got to see him have these milestones he wouldn’t have had if he was still in kidney failure.”
 
When area and nationwide news outlets picked up the story of the viral post that led to a transplant match, Polet-Monterosso was reluctant to step into the limelight.

“I am not special,” she says. 

“Anyone can do this. And it’s the best thing you’ll ever do.”

Read more articles by Andrea Goodell.