Kidney donor reaches new heights

Emily Polet-Monterosso in the foreground, hiking toward a snowy mountain peak.

Shelby Township woman saves a life, then tackles Mts. Everest, Kilimanjaro

Emily Polet-Monterosso got healthy so she could give a kidney to a stranger, then climbed two of the world’s highest mountains.

It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” said Emily, a Shelby Township resident, of her decision to donate.

“Since I donated, I’ve gone on some amazing adventures. I’ve seen parts of the world I’ve never seen before. These are things that never would’ve happened if I hadn’t donated.”

Emily Polet-Monterosso smiling for a selfie-style photo while hiking toward a snow-capped mountain with other hikers.Emily’s donation journey started about four years ago when she saw a Facebook post with a simple message about a single dad looking for a Type O kidney. She knew she was a Type O donor because she has donated five gallons of blood throughout her life. The phone number in the post was local, so she decided to call. That’s how she eventually saved Ryan Standford, a father of three.

“Seeing it was a single father tugged on my heartstrings,” she said. “I called the number, thinking: ‘I’m probably not a match, but if I am and I don’t call – that would tug at my conscience.’ I called, figuring I wouldn’t be qualified.”

Emily went through the evaluation process and learned she was a good match for Ryan. Then she joined a gym to lose weight and get as healthy as possible for the surgery. Both decisions changed her life.

After she recovered from the surgery, Emily joined Kidney Donor Athletes, an organization that promotes the healthy lifestyle donors can experience after they give. They initially interacted through Zoom but when Covid-19 restrictions began to lift, they set their sights on Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

Emily was one of 22 kidney donors who attempted to climb the free-standing volcano to celebrate World Kidney Day last March. She didn’t make it to the summit because of altitude sickness at the highest base camp, but she still felt exhilarated by the nine days she spent there.

Group of about 20 hikers at a base camp for Mt. Kilimanjaro holding banners in front of them.

“It was a physical feat unlike anything I’ve ever attempted before and it kicked off a totally new love of mountain climbing that I had not experienced before,” she said.

Emily kept in touch with her fellow climbers and conquered The Penny Loop in New Hampshire last June. Over the summer, she connected with legendary climber Dave Ashley and joined him and three others to climb Mt. Everest in October. Emily climbed higher than she did at Kilimanjaro. This year, she’s reuniting with her group to attempt Pike’s Peak in July and has a six-day trek in Iceland planned for August.

“I’m healthier now than I ever was before my donation,” Emily said. “I just feel like it’s a great thing to share with potential living kidney donors, so they know that their health and their life and their ability to thrive after donation is not compromised in any way. They can go on to continue to live an exciting, fulling life.”

To find out more about living organ donation, visit golm.org/livingdonation.

For more information or to sign up as a donor, visit golm.org/register.

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