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My Journey to Give Back: Part 1

By: Lindsay Gutierrez

April 5th, 2022

Lindsey and fellow soldier are seen here while on tour.

Why Me?

My driver’s license is marked ‘organ donor.’ For a long while, I thought that was good enough and never gave a second thought to organ donation. That mindset changed some months ago when I saw an ad in Defense News about DOVE. I’m a social worker and case manager for my district’s congressional office in my professional role. I help veterans and their families daily, so it’s not unusual for the office to receive many magazines and newspapers. However, our office has NEVER received a copy of this newspaper – ever – in the three years I’ve been working here. But of all days, the one day I see an ad about DOVE is the day Defense News is delivered and set on my desk. Something about that ad spoke to me, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to learn more about DOVE. In hindsight, it was a God whisper on my soul.

Per usual, I ignored that whisper for a couple of days, but the ad continued to pop into my mind. I finally reached out to Sharyn at DOVE, and the rest is history. I’ll elaborate more on this later!

After my intake with her, I talked to my family and husband about what I wanted to do and discussed the situation with my employer. Everyone I spoke to was supportive of my choice. I decided I wanted to become an altruistic living kidney donor to another veteran. I’m pretty healthy, so why not share my spare?

Lindsay holding up the DOVE ad's in Defense News.

Too many people wait around for a deceased donor, and time waits for no one, especially those on borrowed time. I knew it was something God had placed in my path, and as a social worker, advocate for veterans, and veteran myself, everything about DOVE aligned with what I believed in and stood for. How could I not step up to this challenge? It was an easy decision for me, and I was ready to leap into the living donor world.

The Process

I like to move back and forth between events, so bear with me here...

The living donor process is spectacular and so much happens all at once that sometimes I skip to the good parts and go into details later. This is where I tell you all about my intake with Sharyn, which is unique! All good stories start with “So there I was….,” and this story is no different. There I was sitting in my tattoo artist’s studio getting part of my sleeve worked on when Sharyn and I had our meeting, lol. It was unintentional, as I figured this session would’ve been completed when I met with Sharyn. As it turns out, I had to take a bit of a break to let my arm and nerves rest before my artist went back for the second half. This crept into my intake meeting with Sharyn, and when we met, Sharyn was so full of joy and thrilled to meet me in this same setting! I thought, “OMG

…Sharyn is going to think I’m so unprofessional…I hope she doesn’t hate me….” – precisely the opposite. Sharyn thought it was neat to have our intake at the tattoo studio since it was a first for her – definitely for me!

Our meeting went smooth; Sharyn told me what to expect with a donation and the various stakeholders involved. She said Mount Sinai in NYC and the Bronx VA work together for kidney transplants to expect calls and emails from them soon. Most importantly, my kidney would be going to a fellow veteran in need. I felt compelled and even more ready to donate after meeting with her. Even more incredible was finding out Sharyn was a social worker too! I thought she could relate to the journey from both social work and humanistic standpoint, which made me feel so comfortable. Sharyn and I said our goodbyes, and just days later, I started receiving communications from personnel at Mount Sinai and the Bronx VA to create the donor pre-evaluation process. I was ready for this adventure.

The calls and emails I received from various personnel at Mount Sinai and VA were standard at first: contact info, when you are available to do initial virtual meetings, etc. My first virtual communication was with Elaine at Mount Sinai, and she guided me through the kidney donor process from start to finish in about 30 minutes. Elaine elaborated on pre-evaluation procedures, the urine, and blood work I need to do, what I can prepare for when I visit NYC for the all-day in-person visits, and, if cleared, surgery day. Maybe some people would hesitate to give up a kidney after hearing all this vital information, but not me. I was still ready to donate. I realized the screening process is pervasive so if you’re a private person, get glad for 100% of your donation care team to know all about your medical history. Much of what I discussed with my medical team was repeated, but I know how important it is to confirm and re-confirm details. I mean, it is kidney donation and is major surgery. So, I appreciated how much my medical team reassured me about the process and ensured I’d be supported through the entire journey.

It took some time, maybe weeks or so, after my standard call with Mount Sinai for me to get things moving along with scheduling appointments. Because the surgery is taking place at Mount Sinai, is with whom I’ve had the most contact when it comes to the medical side of things. I had a second appointment with Elaine, and she went more in-depth about the actual surgery. I then had a virtual meeting with a transplant social worker named Danielle. Danielle and I talked about the briefing Elaine gave me, confirmed I understood informed consent, and provided various resources to help me when I’d be out of work recovering and healing. It was great to know that so many states are changing laws to help living donors. Many nonprofits, too, will provide financial support if an employer doesn’t pay for time off. I’m still working with my employer to figure out the best option to utilize should I be cleared for surgery. I’ll keep you updated!

Currently, I’ve met with the transplant psychiatrist to go over my mental health history. This helps my team know the choice I’m making to donate is with a sound mind and not being coerced. My care team is fantastic and truly puts the patient's needs first. I’ve also had to do a 24-hour urine collection to increase my creatine/protein ratio and blood drawn for a comprehensive metabolic panel. On March 28t,h I’ll be traveling to the Big Apple for my many in-person appointments! I’ll be getting (more) lab work done, meetings with the transplant coordinator, a nephrologist, nutritionist, social worker, and more people I’m positive are essential members of the transplant tea. I’ll find out if I’m cleared for donation or not. Prayers, good vibes, and positive thoughts that I aremgooddTootooo .!

So now that you know all about my kidney donor journey thus far, you’re probably wondering, “Who just randomly donates a kidney to a total stranger?” Well, I do. That’s just who I am and a part of my character. I suppose it would help give you some back story about myself, so let me dig right in…I’m originally from Midwest City, OK – born and raised – and live in Nashville, GA, with my husband, Anthony. I joined the Air Force in 2010 to help provide for myself.

Lindsay and husband, Anthony.

I was living paycheck to paycheck, and I recognized that the military would allow me opportunities to travel the world, receive benefits, and meet new people. My recruiter knew I wanted a non-traditional job, so he got me into the Security Forces career field, and this was my job all six years in the Air Force. While all jobs have their ups and downs, it’s how I met my husband, and I’m forever grateful for that.

Anthony and I met when we were stationed at RAF Lakenheath, England. I had been in England since 2011, and Anthony came along in 2013. After a chance meeting, he and I started dating, and after a few deployments and TDYs, we married in 2015. Anthony proposed to me right after returning from my second deployment (he’s very romantic like that). Skip forward a few years, and it’s 2016 – also the year that I need to decide to re-enlist or separate. After giving it much thought, I separated after six incredible years. Anthony received orders to Moody AFB, and in the fall of 2016, we relocated to Georgia. Through the military and outside experiences, I was able to find my calling as a social advocate.

After I separated from the military, my struggles with relocating to an unfamiliar

location with no support system, PTSD, depression, anxiety, and a traumatic brain injury (TBI) impacted my coping abilities with civilian life. Thoughts of hopelessness raced in my mind daily. After months of being plagued with feeling invisible and worthless, I started volunteering with DARE Animal Rescue in Valdosta, Georgia. I quickly recognized that I could alleviate some of my pain by continuing to serve others far beyond wearing the uniform. Then in 2017, I was introduced to Ms. Veteran America. Let me tell you, when I say pageants were unfamiliar territory, I mean it. I was a collegiate softball player and never competed in any pageant growing up. This was a whole new world for me. I first became involved in competitions and pageants to bring awareness to veteran needs and issues. Pageantry transformed into an opportunity to break down stereotypes associated with mental health and opened doors to speak up and out about the ongoing need for mental health education, programs, and legislative reform.

Lindsay after winning, Ms. Georgia American Woman Service pageant and posing with her husband and pig!

I have had the honor of holding the national title of Ms. Veteran America, which advocated on behalf of homeless women veterans. Additional markers of mine include Ms. Georgia US Continental, Ms. Georgia American Women of Service, Ms. Georgia South, Mrs. Southern Starz, Miss Georgia Military Star Honorary Veteran, and Mrs. Georgia American Elegance. In November 2022, I’ll be heading to Illinois to compete for the glorious title of Mrs. American Elegance.

Ms. Veteran America 2017.

I attended undergrad at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. I continued my graduate studies at the University of Oklahoma by earning a master’s degree in Human Relations and then completing a master’s in Social Work degree from Arizona State University. My future ambitions include running for public office and attending law school.  As if I’m not busy enough, I’m a member of my local American Legion post and American Legion Auxiliary unit, am a Key Spouse for the 23d Maintenance Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, I co-chair and operate Cinderella’s Closet on Moody and sit on the Board of Directors for the Youth Impact Center, Veterans First Light, and Moody Air Force Base Thrift Store. I still volunteer at DARE Animal Rescue, providing companionship and love to homeless animals. I love outdoor cycling, reading, listening to true crime podcasts, mudding in side-by-side with Anthony, being an advocate for social issues, contributing to IGNITE National and the Service Women’s Action Networks’ speaker’s bureau, writing for Freedom Sisters Media, and cuddling my potbelly pigs, dogs, cat, and chickens. My perspective in life is best outlined in the famous Man in the Arena speech by former president Theodore Roosevelt, and my favorite quote to live by and inspire others with is “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

To watch my journey in real-time, I encourage you to follow me on social media. I’ll be posting pictures, fun facts, and other cool things about kidney donation. Please follow me on Instagram and Facebook. Thank you so much for your support, and if you made it this far, congrats! I can’t wait to share the next part of my journey with readers: visiting NYC!

Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon!


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