St. Paul native hopes to raise awareness of kidney donation by running in Twin Cities Marathon

Marathoner on a mission

Marathoner on a mission

Matt Cavanaugh knows a thing or two about running in the heat.

“That’s when I knew I was like the frog in the boiling pot,” Cavanaugh, CEO of the National Kidney Donation Organization, says.

RELATED: Twin Cities Marathon runners cautioned about heat ahead of weekend event

Like the time he ran in an ultramarathon in an African desert in May of 2022.

“We finished and the last mile and a half was in a canyon that was like the Badlands of South Dakota,” Cavanaugh recalls. “The temperatures got up to 131 degrees and I still finished. I finished fourth overall there.”

So, the 44-year-old, who recently retired after 25 years in the U.S. Army, isn’t fazed by the expected 85-degree temperatures for this Sunday’s Twin Cities Marathon.

“Whether you’ve got one kidney or two, heat still feels the same,” Cavanaugh said, laughing.

Two years ago, Cavanaugh donated one of his kidneys at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center outside of Washington, D.C.

“I felt like at a relatively low risk to myself, I could give someone life,” he declares. “And there’s nothing bigger I think I can do than that.”

It’s a mentorship group for people who’ve donated kidneys, and those considering it.

“You can donate a kidney and save a life and go right back to doing all the stuff you do right now,” Cavanaugh said.

He calls his new challenge “1K12M,” short for one kidney to run 12 marathons, which he’s aiming to tackle this year across the U.S., including for the first time, in the Twin Cities.

“I think it really illustrates that donating a kidney doesn’t have to change your life,” said Dr. Vanessa Humphreville, a liver, kidney and pancreas transplant surgeon at the University of Minnesota and M Health Fairview.

We asked with this weekend’s expected hot weather if it’s safe for Cavanaugh to run a marathon.

“So yes, obviously taking precautions to not get dehydrated, that would be the biggest risk to him,” Humphreville said. “What we’ve found is that people who donate a kidney on average have a longer lifespan, live longer than people who don’t donate a kidney.”

The doctor, who is also the surgical director for the Living Donor Program, says in 2022, they worked with 96 living donors.

Humphreville says the program transplanted their 10,000th kidney this past year.

Her advice for Cavanaugh and others is to take advantage of the expected extra water stations along the course.

Cavanaugh’s participation on Sunday is sponsored by the National Kidney Registry, with additional support from the University of Minnesota Transplant Center.

He hopes to complete the race in the morning before the heat gets too intense.

Meanwhile, Cavanaugh hopes to spread the message, “Yes, you can” as a living kidney donor.

“You have this boost, this psychological sense that like I did something for someone and that means something,” he says. “And it reminds you of how fragile and important life is.”

You can find out more about the National Kidney Donation Organization here. There’s information about Cavanaugh’s 1K12M Challenge here.