DaVita® Stories

30-Year-Old Athlete Receives Kidney Donation from Triathlete Mother

From his school days to his adult years, Chris Zitur hardly ever got sick. He filled his 20s with friends, work and sports. He played kickball two days a week in the summer and hockey two days a week in the winter, and went skiing and hiking on the weekends.

But last year at age 29, the Denver resident started to feel off. He was chronically tired, his stomach was upset and he was frequently sick, so he went to the doctor. He learned through blood and urine tests that his glomerular filtration rate (GFR)—the overall index of kidney function—was high and he had protein in his urine. His kidneys were failing.

“After I was referred to kidney specialist, they suggested right away that I should get my name on the wait list for a kidney transplant,” said Chris, who works in the construction industry.

Cheryl Zitur, a triathlete who plans to complete an Ironman in September, donated her kidney to her son and fellow athlete, Chris Zitur on June 30, 2016.

And so he did. His dad, brothers and mother, Cheryl Zitur, tested positive as matches. And on June 30, 2016, at age 30, Chris received a kidney from Cheryl. The procedure not only provided Chris with a functioning kidney, but also a drive to share his transplant story and inspire others to either ask their doctor about getting added to the transplant list or to register as a donor—especially now during National Donate Life Month. Cheryl joins her son on this mission.

“When I first learned he needed a kidney, my response was, ‘He can have mine,’” said Cheryl, a personal trainer and triathlon coach who lives in Corcoran, Minnesota.

The donation process took about two to three months. It began with a comprehensive evaluation of Cheryl’s health to determine if she had a healthy kidney to donate, and that she was healthy enough to live with one kidney and recover from surgery. She did and she was.

“The day we had the transplant was scary, but more of a relief to know Chris was going to be better and off of dialysis,” Cheryl said. Chris said he was also scared to have the procedure at first. For both he and his mom, it was the unknown—and the waiting.

“Once you think there is one test done, a few more have to be processed,” Chris said. “It just took a lot of patience.”

Cheryl’s kidney began to work for Chris immediately. However, a few days later, a kink in the artery leading to the kidney required emergency surgery. After doctors fixed the kink, the transplanted kidney then went into a state of shock and stopped working. But after a few more dialysis sessions, the kidney started to work again.

Two to three months after surgery, Chris said he felt amazing and couldn’t remember the last time he felt that great. And within four weeks of donating her kidney to her son, Cheryl was out running and swimming again. She’s participated in two triathlons since donating and a couple of half marathons. This September, her goal is to complete an Ironman, which is one of a series of long-distance triathlon races that includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile run—raced in that order and without a break.

Cheryl said that her biggest piece of advice to others who are considering donation is to ignore the misconceptions they may hear around the physical impact on the donor.

“The remaining kidney takes over 80 percent of function and there are almost no limitations,” she said.

Most people with one kidney live healthy, normal lives with few problems, according to the National Kidney Foundation. There is a chance of slight loss in kidney function and a chance of having high blood pressure later in life. However, the loss in kidney function is usually very mild, and life span is normal. Doctors recommend that donors have their kidney function checked once a year.

As for Chris’ advice for those considering transplant?

“Don’t give up,” he said. “Everything will be alright. It might seem like the world is going for the worse, but keep pushing forward do what the nurses and doctors tell you to do, and it will turn out for the better.”

He also encourages everyone to have their GFR checked regularly.

Chris turned 31 on April 4, and he’s back to playing sports just as he did before his transplant.

To learn more about National Donate Life Month, visit DonateLife.net/NDLM. To get more information about kidney transplant, visit DaVita.com/Treatment-Options/Transplant. And to register to be a kidney donor, visit KidneyRegistry.org.

Nicole Leatherman

Nicole Leatherman

Nicole has a passion for creating content that helps others learn more about health and wellness. She is a manager on the communications team at DaVita, and has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years. The bulk of her experience has been focused on health and nutrition content, and she has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from San Diego State University. When she isn’t writing or editing, she spends time in the yoga studio, on mountain trails in Colorado and in the kitchen creating recipes.