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Cedarburg woman training to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro following kidney donation

By Natalie Shepherd

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    CEDARBURG, Wisconsin (WDJT) — A Cedarburg woman is heading to Tanzania next month to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

It’ll be tough, but maybe not as hard as what she’s already done. Last year, Natasha Irish donated a kidney to a stranger. Now that stranger has become a friend. The climb is for a special cause.

Natasha Irish isn’t afraid to lift heavy. Twenty-five-pound shoulder presses are part of a regular routine.

“Increasing my cardio, continuing to lift 5-6 times a week here in the gym,” Irish said of her routine.

She also climbs stairs wearing a 30-pound vest.

“I’m not an athlete. I’m not a body builder. I don’t do CrossFit,” she said.

What she is, is a kidney donor.

“So, it was never something that was on my radar,” she admitted.

That is, until she saw a Facebook post nearly two years ago from a man she didn’t know.

“A plea for his wife to receive a lifesaving kidney transplant. They were looking for a donor,” she said.

That plea changed Irish’s life and brought her into Kelly Welsh’s.

“This is a hard ask. This felt…it didn’t feel comfortable. It felt like I was asking too much,” Welsh said.

But Welsh’s husband didn’t leave her much choice.

“Much to my dismay, had started spreading the word. I woke up one day to a Facebook post and numerous responses. Including Natasha’s,” Welsh remembered.

“I just felt, one, incredibly drawn to her. Her family. The number of friends and family who were commenting and sharing this post,” Irish added.

Welsh has polycystic kidney disease.

“You wonder, when you know this is coming, like, what does this mean for me? Does it mean I’m going to be sick? Does it mean I’m going to be on dialysis?” she said of the questions swirling in her mind.

And her kidneys were failing.

“We met for the very first time in a coffee shop. Kind of felt like I was going to the most important job interview of my entire life,” Welsh said with a laugh.

In January of 2023, Irish donated a kidney through the National Kidney Registry’s voucher program.

“My kidney went to a woman in Eau Claire. This was actually her second kidney transplant. The first was from her mother when she was 20,” Welsh said of her donation.

Irish wasn’t a perfect match for Welsh, but her donation moved Kelly up the list. And 10 weeks later, she got a kidney. All three women have since met.

“To meet her and see her just thriving. I mean, she is probably the happiest person I’ve ever met,” Irish said of her recipient, Shireen Renagan.

“We’re just this kidney family now,” Irish said.

Which takes us back to the gym. Irish is training to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with Kidney Donor Athletes.

“I’ve been to Tanzania. I work in global health, so I work in Africa,” she said.

But this trip will be personal, raising awareness for living kidney donation.

“I’d say that anyone can do it. I’m a normal, average person. I’d say it’s not as scary as it might sound,” Irish said.

Irish and 13 other donors will start the climb on March 8. It will take eight days and the plan is to summit on March 14, which is World Kidney Day.

“I wouldn’t even say it was on my bucket list or my radar until I became a living kidney donor,” Irish said.

Irish’s gift gave her something in return.

“To know I had that impact in her life, it means a lot to me,” she said.

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