Pennsylvania Woman’s Kidney Donation Journey Stretches From Her Neighborhood to the Top of One of the Tallest Mountains in the World

By: Tyler Wagner

During the pandemic, Mandi Smith never thought that three years later, she’d be sitting atop one of the highest mountain peaks in the world.

“Throughout the pandemic, I had friends who were dealing with so much and the world just seemed to be is such as low place,” said Smith. “Is there something more out there for me, something that I can do to help?” In early 2021, she read a social media post about a person seeking a living donor and it sparked something inside her.

Mandi Smith

She was familiar with some of the transplant programs near her home in Annville, Pa. Soon after exploring donation options, she learned someone in her local community needed a kidney and was seeking care at UPMC Harrisburg. Smith called the transplant services team there, provided the name of her neighbor in need and said she was hoping to help.

For six months, Smith underwent blood work, testing, and evaluation appointments. In Nov. of 2021, she received approval to donate; her surgery was scheduled for Jan. 4, 2022.

“Everyone who had been a part of my journey from UPMC had instilled a sense of, ‘We’ve got this’ and I knew I was in capable, caring hands,” Smith said. “I was not nervous, and I did not question my decision.” Her confidence stemmed from her strong relationship with Jackie Stifler, her transplant coordinator, and Dr. Vijay Menon, her transplant surgeon.

Her operation was successful, and within eight weeks she was back to her “normal” active life.

But for Smith, her most gratifying moment came three months post-surgery when she met her kidney recipient. Meeting the recipient deepened her sense of purpose and lit another fire in Smith to encourage others to consider giving the gift of life.

Smith connected with some donor advocate groups on social media. One on Smith’s groups, which included both donors and recipients – was planning a trek to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro on March 9, World Kidney Day.

“I figured it would say a lot to see someone one-year post donation completes this adventure,” said Smith. “I’m now looking forward to how it adds to my donor story, adding a unique chapter I hope will catch the attention of others, foster conversation on organ donation, and lead to people choosing to make the lifesaving choice to become an organ donor.”

Smith at summit camp

More information:

UPMC is a leader in organ transplantation services and has performed more than 20,000 organ transplant surgery procedures systemwide. UPMC Harrisburg’s Kidney Transplant Program has performed more than 1,300 transplants since 2000, and in 2022, 66 individuals received the gift of kidney transplantation – half were made possible by selfless living kidney donors like Smith.

The impact of a single donation cannot be understated: one organ, tissue, and eye donor has the potential to save eight lives and help more than 75 people. Each day, 17 people in the United States die while on the organ transplant waiting list because a suitable match was not found. Registering to become a donor is as easy as a few clicks and it can save lives and offer hope to those on the waiting list. To learn more about organ donation and Transplant Services at UPMC or to register to become a donor, visit