Dr. Matthew Zuckerman

Oct. 25, 2021
Dr. Matthew Zuckerman is a living kidney donor. Photo by UCHealth.

Physician’s gift generates empathy, answers

As a young physician, Dr. Matthew Zuckerman watched patients struggle to manage chronic illnesses, specifically, those needing dialysis. His answer to their struggles was personal. He became a living kidney donor.

That experience as a patient now informs his actions everyday as he cares for patients in the emergency department at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus and teaches medical students as an assistant professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Zuckerman, a supporter for living organ donation – and patient advocacy –  recalls his own experience after giving his kidney. He had just mustered enough strength and willpower to get out of his hospital bed and stand for the first time since his surgery when a doctor walked in and asked him to lie down for a quick examination.

“I said, ‘No, you can come back. I got to this point and I need to keep going,’” Zuckerman said.

Looking back on that moment, he says, “It’s funny how we expect patients to be at our call when they are in the hospital. Most patients would lie back down and suffer the pain of trying to get back up again.”

Walking in the patient’s shoes made him a more empathetic doctor.

“If you’ve had a kidney stone, you’ll probably treat a kidney stone patient a bit differently,” Zuckerman said. “Having that (living donor) experience has made me more understanding and focused on the patient’s experience. I have my short days and days I fail. But I have respect for all the people along the way that make donation possible. Medicine is about fixing problems, and donation is a win-win-win, especially living donation. There is no downside — it just made the world a better place than the day before.”

Zuckerman said he often forgets he donated his kidney because it has not affected his daily living. He is married with three kids, loves to ski, hike and camp.

“Everyone knows about donating organs but most of us think about the end of life. I looked into living donation, and my first step was reaching out to the local center,” he said. “To me, it made sense. I understood the need for kidneys and how life-changing it would be for someone. Dialysis is lifesaving, too, but these people often continue to feel ill.

“I felt like I had an extra kidney and was not at risk for kidney failure. It would by no means reduce my means to care for people, and it was one way I could help.”

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About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.