Charleston woman to tackle bucket list by donating kidney

Natalie Taylor keeps her bucket list in a book and crosses items out when she completes them. (Brad Nettles/

No. 40: Ride a camel.

No. 56: Learn to change a tire.

No. 57: Run with the bulls.

No. 62: Donate a kidney.

This is a portion of Natalie Taylor’s bucket list, and they’re not just pie-in-the-sky pipe dreams, goals she might get around to one distant day.

This is a sincere plan, written down in a journal with lines that need to be completed and crossed off (not necessarily in chronological order).

“I’ve always kept these fun ideas in mind, and some of them I’ve been able to do so far and some of them I’m still going to check off,” said Taylor, 32, of Charleston.

She bought a house with a red door (No. 54 on the list) in Wagener Terrace last year. She learned to shoot a handgun (No. 53) in 2007, and she rode that camel in 2004. This month she will give a kidney away to a Californian she’s never met and likely never will.

“It’s been on my mind for so long. To finally have the opportunity to do it is just really such a honor. I’m really very excited.”

Taylor, who works at Charleston Sweet Gourmet, read a Glamour magazine article about organ donation when she was in high school, and decided back then it was something she wanted to pursue. The National Kidney Registry classifies her as a “Good Samaritan” because she is donating her kidney with no specific recipient in mind.

After signing up for surgery through the Medical University of South Carolina’s Transplant Center — the only transplant center site in South Carolina — Taylor found out her kidney would be sent to someone in California. She also learned that her donation set off a chain reaction around the country that boomeranged right back to Charleston.

“This is going to take seven people off the national waiting list,” said Sara Parker, a nurse at MUSC’s Transplant Center. The seventh person on that list happens to be 9-year-old Saniyah Lovett of Ridgeland, who has been waiting since October for a kidney.

“We’ve been praying on this for a while,” said LaShon Lovett, Saniyah’s mother.

Saniyah was diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome when she was 4. It’s a kidney disorder that “causes your body to excrete too much protein in your urine,” according to the Mayo Clinic. Last year, both of Saniyah’s kidneys were removed at MUSC. Her mother drives her to Charleston — a three-hour round trip from Ridgeland — three days a week for dialysis treatment. Saniyah can attend school only twice a week.

“She doesn’t produce any urine,” Lovett said. “The dialysis is basically her kidneys right now.”

Saniyah was at school Tuesday when Lovett found out that a donation would be made available for her daughter this month. Saniyah’s surgery is scheduled for Sept. 24.

“I cried,” Lovett said. “It’s going to change a lot.”

Kidneys are about the size of small potatoes, or balled-up fists, and they’re found on each side of the spine near the bottom of the rib cage. Virtually everyone has two of them.

Their job is to clean up waste and excess fluid in the body. That waste and water is then flushed out as urine. Most healthy people can function with just one kidney.

Still, the Transplant Center at MUSC subjects potential donors to rigorous medical and pyscho-social screening before clearing the donation.

“We want to medically clear the donor to make sure they are safe to live on one kidney,” said Parker, the nurse.

Diabetes and high blood pressure disqualify a potential donor, she said, because both conditions are difficult on kidneys.

For Taylor, a healthy young adult with no medical history of diabetes or high blood pressure, donating a kidney is considered a low-risk operation.

“I was already committed, but I knew this was a huge pill to swallow for my family and friends ... so my research was really for them,” Taylor said. “Basically, from what I understand, of course there are health risks and everybody is different, however you react may be different, but really they are slim to none. At my age, in my shape, the recovery should be pretty easy.”

Taylor’s operation is scheduled for Sept. 17. Surgeons will use a minimally invasive laparoscope to remove her kidney through a small slit near her bikini line.

“It’s really just a tiny little scar,” she said. When the day comes, “I can’t say that ... I’m not going to be a little worried to go under the knife, but I’ve been sitting with this since high school. Doctors, hospitals — none of that has ever scared me. ... It’s been on my mind for so long to finally have the opportunity to do it is just really such a honor.”

“I’ve known Natalie now for a year,” said Don DeLuca, who owns Charleston Sweet Gourmet with his wife, Betsy. “I’m a worrier by heart. I’m more worried about it than she is — the actual operation. She’s like family to us.”

Taylor’s real family has expressed concerns too, she said.

“There are a lot of what-ifs. My dad was very worried. ‘What if you have kids or a husband or a sister who needs one? Or what if (the kidney) gets rejected?’ Those are very real possibilities, but it’s also just as real that none of that happens. I feel like I have this opportunity now. That’s not a what-if.”

After surgery, Taylor said she will spend a couple nights in the hospital. After that, she’ll keep crossing lines off that bucket list.

No. 60: Learn to do a perfect cartwheel.

No. 26: Pack a picnic in Central Park.

No. 63: Dive with sharks.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.