Photo by Paul Buceta
In 2006, LeAnn Hessler made a decision that would create what she calls a spiritual experience—and save the life of a loved one.
One year prior, LeAnn’s aunt, Amanda Koenigsberg, who became diabetic after a virus attacked her pancreas, went into renal failure and would require a kidney transplant to survive. With just seven years between them, the two had always been close, a relationship LeAnn describes as more akin to sisters than aunt and niece.
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Devastated by the news of her aunt’s condition, LeAnn offered to be tested to determine if she was a match, much to the concern of her family. “I was 28 at the time with two small boys,” she says. “But I had a gut feeling from the very beginning that [the donor] was going to be me. I made up my mind that if I was a match, then I would donate.”
After two other potential donors had failed match attempts, LeAnn was tested: she was a perfect match.
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Aunt Amanda with her husband, Rob.
LeAnn was a new mother when she donated her kidney.
The transplant surgery was scheduled for March 13, 2006—Amanda’s 35th birthday. LeAnn had complete faith that the surgery would be successful, and she met with surgeons and coordinators before the procedure who reassured her family that both she and Amanda would be in good hands.
Prior to the procedure, LeAnn’s transplant coordinator discussed the advantages of fitness with her, and convinced LeAnn to begin a workout program which would aid her recovery. “Being fit isn’t a requirement to be tested for a transplant, but having quality health on my side made the process so much smoother,” she says.
“The donation was one of the most
rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life”
Thanks to LeAnn’s kidney donation, Amanda survived, and while she isn’t in perfect health, her condition has greatly improved. She refers to her niece as her angel, but for LeAnn, the procedure was a small price to pay to save her aunt’s life. “My part of the procedure took a little over three hours. I never experienced any discomfort, and after two days’ recovery I was back at home with my boys,” she says, adding that within days of returning home, she was back on her feet (just no heavy lifting). “The donation was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life. It [was] almost spiritual.”
And it certainly hasn’t slowed down her workouts. In fact, after obtaining her personal training certification and being overwhelmed with client requests, she’s turned her passion for fitness into a full-fledged business. With some research, she created an online community for her clients which combined training and nutritional guidance. Her website, LeAnnHesslerFitness.com, provides minimal-equipment workout videos for beginners and athletes alike, and shares meal plans and nutrition advice. “The group is extremely motivating, and the results are for real,” she says.
So while she has zero regrets about her life-changing decision, LeAnn still offers this advice to anyone considering becoming an organ donor. “Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons,” she says. “It’s a gift, but the physical part is only half of it. Mentally, you have to be aware of what you’re giving. It’s a truly amazing feeling and I felt honored to be a part of it.”