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I sent my kidney to South Dakota: Leif Sigerson on how Pinterest supported him throughout a unique life project

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Life at Pinterest sat down with Pinterest Data Scientist, Leif Sigerson, to learn more about his inspiring kidney donation experience and how his manager and teammates supported him throughout his unique life project.

The beginning

When I learned about donating a kidney to a stranger, I felt like I’d stumbled on a superpower. Here’s the basic equation: You can donate your kidney to a stranger, give them an extra 10 years of life on average, and jump start a chain of kidney donations to help even more people. This was the beginning of a unique life project that would last 18 months, where my colleagues at Pinterest would be an essential source of support for me.

Amazingly, it is very, very safe to donate a kidney: the surgery is about the same risk as giving birth, and living with one kidney doesn’t impact your life expectancy. My recipient could only match with 3% of the population. Someone loved him enough to give him their kidney, but they were not a match. That person took a leap and donated their kidney anyway, so that my recipient would be prioritized on the transplant waiting list. I feel so grateful that I could “close the loop” and get my recipient the kidney that he needed. I know that a part of me lives in South Dakota now, helping him live a better, longer life.

The process

One of my favorite things about working at Pinterest is that we have space for important moments in our personal lives. On my team, we regularly share and celebrate personal goals and milestones in our weekly social lunches, so I was excited to share my plan to donate my kidney with my colleagues at one of our lunches. I prepared a whole presentation, and because I’m on a data science team, I shared the stats and research behind my decision. My team was so supportive, and my manager made it clear that I had his complete support.

Donating a kidney is not a quick process:

  1. You’re required to undergo extensive testing to ensure that you’re healthy enough to donate.
  2. You need to be matched with a recipient who will get your kidney.
  3. The surgery itself requires two to six weeks before you can return to work.

Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic made my kidney donation even more complicated. Throughout this process, my manager made it clear that I should take the time I needed to for the kidney donation. Pinterest has flexible paid time off, and this was definitely a way that I wanted to take advantage of it. Knowing that I had his support, and the support of my team, made everything easier.

I had my surgery on March 1st of 2022, and everything went smoothly. It’s truly incredible how quickly your body can recover and return to normal after losing an organ! Pinterest’s Head of Philanthropy, Ari Simon, was at my apartment two days after the surgery with snacks – I had to eventually ask him to leave because he was making me laugh too much, which was not recent-kidney-removal approved.

Needless to say, I was excited to share my journey with my team. When I went back to work, I updated my presentation and shared it again at our weekly lunch. Here’s a look at the presentation I shared:

Yes, you’d better believe I used a graph to explain my surgery recovery to my team!

Wrap up

It’s been three months since my surgery and I’m fully recovered. My recovery project was to climb all 46 hills in San Francisco with one kidney. Seven weeks after my kidney donation, I climbed hill number 46, and celebrated the incredible resilience of my body with a donut!

Recently, I got to share my experience at Knit Con, our annual internal event that brings Pinterest to life for employees. Pinterest employees are able to teach classes or give talks on topics that they’re passionate about, to build inspiration for the team. I was delighted to discover another kidney donor at Pinterest, who shared her own moving journey alongside mine at Knit Con. I’ve always felt that people at Pinterest were uniquely kind and generous; meeting another kidney donor here just makes it even more clear.

In the end, I did get to use that superpower I stumbled upon and donating a kidney to a stranger was maybe the most profound thing I’ve done with my life. I continue to feel grateful to work at a company where I get to have a meaningful impact on the world – both at work and in my personal life. 

If you’re interested in learning more about kidney donation, you can check out the article that inspired me originally, or have a look at the presentation that I shared at Knit Con this year.

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