Dossier: Decisions

«I donated a kidney to my girlfriend»

Donate an organ to your partner? It’s a difficult decision, and one that Robin Freimann (26) was confronted with. He’s still 100% certain he did the right thing.

Text: Katharina Rilling; Photos: Marco Rosasco

"During the pandemic I donated a kidney to my girlfriend. We’re a young couple -– neither related nor married. Thanks to dialysis, her condition wasn’t life-threatening. Even so, the decision to donate an organ wasn’t difficult for me to make. I saw how badly she was doing and how much quality of life she had to sacrifice. She had to go for dialysis three times a week and could no longer work full time. It was clear: I was going to do it!

But actually following through on a decision is a different matter entirely. The year up to the operation was a difficult time full of ups and downs. A number of times I caught myself thinking thoughts such as 'but I’m a healthy person. I’m not ill. She’s the one that’s ill! Does it have to be this way?' This is kind of what happened at the first examination when they put me in the tube. When you’re planning to donate, they examine you very carefully. The doctors found spots on my lungs - nothing bad as it turned out, but they removed the abnormal tissue to be on the safe side. That was just more stress. And then there were the people around me worried about whether I’d given the donation sufficient thought.

Robin doesn’t regret his decision to donate an organ - and won’t regret it even if he and his girlfriend should ever split up.
The many discussions before the transplant brought the couple closer together.

Fortunately my girlfriend never put pressure on me. I knew that she’d understand, even if I said no at the last minute on the operating table. This time brought us closer together as a couple. Even so, we did go through the possibility of a separation. We sent each other a letter saying that the kidney should never be a reason to stay together. I firmly resolved to see the positive side if it should end at some point: I’d been able to help a young person.

These are all things you have to think about when you’ve got such an important decision to make. You can only follow through if you’ve thought everything through and are sure in your mind. When times were difficult I clung to the thought that donating was important and a good thing. On the other hand, I hardly gave a thought to probabilities and transplant success rates.

Now I can say that I’m at peace with my decision. We’re doing very well. My girlfriend will start work again soon. For me, donating was a good life lesson, because the many discussions and having to face my fears helped me become more adult. I now value my life and health more. We celebrate the date of the operation as my girlfriend’s new birthday. I might have problems in old age. That’s a risk I have to be able to deal with. But I live in the now. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?"

Robin Freimann, age 26, works as a greenkeeper at a golf course.