State legislator takes break from service to donate – a kidney

Oregon State Capitol rotunda (Salem Reporter/file)

SALEM – When state Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell of Astoria won election to the Oregon House to represent the north coast, there was a lot flying through her head. 

On election night last Nov. 6, she thought of the people who made her campaign a success: her friends and family, her staff, her constituents.

And she thought about her kidneys.

She realized she now had a chance in her schedule to do what she has long dreamed of – saving a life by donating one of her kidneys. Next month, that will happen.

Her fascination with organ donation began when she was 16 and she checked that box on her driver’s license that made her an anatomical donor. 

“I remember thinking that was a neat idea, you know, I could donate to my sister if she ever needed a kidney, but I didn’t actively pursue the idea at that time,” Mitchell said. “I thought, if someone needs it, great. I have a spare kidney I could potentially donate to a person.” 

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Several years went by and she didn’t give the issue much thought until a close friend developed kidney disease. Mitchell arranged to see if she might be a match to donate. She wasn’t.  

“That experience – how anxious and concerned I was — made me realize that if I was willing to give my kidney to someone who I really cared about and the emotion around that, why wouldn’t I be willing to give my kidney to someone that I don’t know? Someone who has family and friends who are equally concerned.” 

That notion stuck in Mitchell’s mind, but having recently moved, being in graduate school and with a wedding on the horizon, she didn’t have the four to six weeks needed to recover from such surgery. The idea faded but lingered with Mitchell.

Fast forward to the November 2018 election. After winning her seat, Mitchell immediately thought of her kidneys and how the months-long break between the 2019 Legislature and 2020 session would afford her the recovery period after donating a kidney. 

To make things even more poetic, during the 2019 session Mitchell encountered Portland-based nonprofit Donate Life Northwest and learned about SB 796, which prohibited insurers from discriminating against those who choose to be organ donors.

She ended up championing the bill in the House, carrying it to unanimous passage.

But what could prove to be even more impactful is her outspoken support of Donate Life NW’s education efforts promoting live kidney donations. 

“Rep. Mitchell has been very vocal ever since starting the process about how she wants to make this an educational opportunity to tell people she’s doing this, and you can too,” said 

Aimee Adelmann, director of outreach and education for Donate Life. 

According to Adelmann, the average wait time for a patient needing a kidney is two to five years. That often means patients remain on dialysis meantime, and each year a patient spends on dialysis can shave approximately five years off their life expectancy.

Currently 730 Oregonians are waiting for a kidney transplant.  

“It’s not the way to live,” Mitchell said. “You want to get that person a transplant as quickly as you can.”

The prime range of an organ donor is between age 25 and 60, but a variety of factors determine whether one can donate, including overall health, organ function and blood type. 

What Mitchell hopes to accomplish is to change the mindset of Oregonians so they understand that they don’t have to wait until they’re dead to donate.

“When people think about organ donation, they think of it in terms of something you do after you’re deceased,” she said. “I think most people don’t see it as something they can do while they’re still living, when in fact a living donation is better.”

In April, Mitchell made her decision and met with Donate Life to initiate the donation process. They set her up with a local transplant center where she completed the necessary blood tests, physical and psychiatric evaluations to be cleared for surgery in October. 

Her kidney will be sent to Pennsylvania where it is expected to save the life of a patient with kidney disease.

Mitchell hopes to be an example that prompts other Oregonians to become donors.

“If we can get more people to actually consider this as an option, that to me is important,” Mitchell said.

Contact Reporter Sam Stites – [email protected] or 971-255-2480