The Good Samaritan

As part of a bucket list, Natalie Taylor ’04 donated a kidney—not to anyone in particular—and set off a chain reaction.

Natalie Taylor ’04 sits on her front porch with her red front door, one of the items on her bucket list. (Brad Nettles/postandcourier.com) Natalie Taylor ’04 sits on her front porch with her red front door, one of the items on her bucket list. (Brad Nettles/postandcourier.com) “Altruism is innate,” the late humorist David Rakoff once told us, “but it’s not instinctual. Everybody's wired for it, but a switch has to be flipped.”

From Taylor’s Facebook page: The end of the donation chain I started came full circle - here we are. Bookends to a beautiful experience.  - with La'Shon Love at Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). From Taylor’s Facebook page: The end of the donation chain I started came full circle - here we are. Bookends to a beautiful experience. - with La'Shon Love at Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). For Natalie Taylor ’04, that switch was an article she read in Glamour in high school, and then filed away in the deep recesses of her brain, as you do when you’re a teenager with more important things to worry about. The article was about organ donation. She filed it in her mental bucket list. I should do that one day, she thought.

For most everyone else, that’s where it would have ended. School. Family. Career. Life. But not for Taylor. A few years ago, her mental bucket list became a paper bucket list. And entry 62—a few spots between “Learn how to change a tire" and "Run with the bulls” and “Buy a house with a red door”—was “Donate a kidney.” On September 17, the 32-year-old Charleston resident did just that.

She has no idea who the recipient was.

Well, that's not entirely true. She knows it went to a woman in California, a woman who’d been having trouble finding a match until Taylor's kidney came along. But unlike most kidney donors, Taylor didn’t go under the knife with a specific patient in mind—she did it because she wanted to. She's what the National Kidney Registry calls a Good Samaritan Donor.

“I felt very much that it was my calling,” she says.

Taylor works in retail, at Charleston Sweet Gourmet, but she also volunteered at the Medical University of South Carolina, which has that state's only transplant center. Six months ago, she put herself on the list to donate. The doctors ran tests on her—she’s healthy, no diabetes, good blood pressure—and gave her a psychological screening. Most people have two kidneys and can live with one, and the surgery itself isn’t that dangerous. But still, there are always risks, always a chance something could go wrong.

Natalie Taylor ’04’s bucket list includes donating a kidney. (Brad Nettles/postandcourier.com)  Natalie Taylor ’04’s bucket list includes donating a kidney. (Brad Nettles/postandcourier.com) “That’s the company line,” Taylor says. But even before she met with the transplant team, she’d done her research. “I was really committed before I met them.” She could still have kids, they told her. After she finished recovery, her life would go back to normal. Because she was a volunteer with no recipient in mind, she could choose when she wanted to do it. She picked late summer—she’d be back on her feet and to work by the holidays. 

Normally kidney donations are, as Taylor puts it, “closed circuits.” The donor gives one to a friend or relative, the patient who needs it. And that’s it. But hers had something of a ripple effect that spread throughout the country: The woman in California who received her kidney had a friend who had volunteered hers but wasn’t a match. So that woman donated a kidney to someone else, in San Francisco. And that recipient had a similar situation, and the same thing happened again. And then again. And again.

And a week later, that gift wound its way back to Charleston, into the body of a 9-year-old girl who needed a new kidney, and who wouldn't have received it without Taylor’s generosity.