Geologist Monte Markley and his wife of 30 years live on a farm in the Flint Hills of Kansas, where they enjoy their animals, the land and the outdoors. As vice president and project director for an environmental engineering firm, Monte solves problems for a living.
"I like to do my part to keep this world a good place to live," Monte says.
In December 2016, he seized that opportunity in an unexpected way. His wife had lived for years with a slow-progressing illness caused by a congenital kidney defect. When her health took a sudden turn for the worse, Monte was determined to solve the problem.
"I can't describe what it was like to see my wife, a vivacious and energetic triathlete, get sicker and sicker," he says. "I felt absolutely helpless until she was listed. She became my whole focus."
Monte was ready and eager to donate his kidney. Once his wife was on the transplant waiting list, their health insurance would cover the costs of evaluation and surgeries.
"We had a lot of discussion as a family," Monte says. "Two of our adult children immediately said, 'Yes, you should do this.' The third was more hesitant, more concerned. I didn't even have to think about it. I was more worried about what would happen if I wasn't a match. What then?"
They began evaluation at a local hospital.
"But we got stopped during the screening process," Monte says. "The hospital was not recognized as a transplant center of excellence, and our insurance would not cover the services. We learned The University of Kansas Health System was the only facility in the state where we could obtain covered services. We had a consult, and the team hit the gas pedal for us."
Fortunately, Monte proved a match for his wife. They prepared for their surgeries. On December 9, 2016, a kidney was removed from Monte's body and transplanted into his wife's. Just a month later, Monte was hunting with his bird dogs and out with his falcons. Meanwhile, his wife's strength and freedom returned, soon, allowing her to again achieve 15,000 to 20,000 steps each day and train for her next triathlon.
"We received phenomenal care," Monte says. "We appreciated the integrated approach. We went to all of our appointments together, so we experienced the complete process for both donor and recipient. The team was extremely focused on both of us as patients. My nephrologist said, 'I know you would do anything for your wife, but my job is to make sure this is in your best interests, too, and that emotions don't override good sense.' I appreciated that incredible level of professionalism and thoroughness."
Living life with a single kidney has not required major changes. Monte notices he drinks more water now, but otherwise simply continues the healthy living he always embraced. He came to realize, too, that donating his kidney had an even greater impact than he initially imagined.
"My wife is back to her normal life, and that was my goal," he says. "But I also came to understand that it wasn't just about us. When I gave her my kidney, she came off the waiting list, and someone else moved up. The kidney she might have gotten will go to someone else. When I helped her, I helped someone I don't even know. There is a multiplier effect."
Monte would make the same decision again, without hesitation.
"Watching what happens to a person with kidney disease is terrible," he says. "Donating a kidney gives someone their life back, takes away their despair. You can make a real difference. It is within your power to change a life."