Monclova Native Karl Ludwig Donates Kidney To Save His OSU Professor’s Life

(Left) Karl Ludwig, wearing a kidney donation T-shirt, greets Aaron Gall after surgery at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. PHOTO COURTESY OF KARL LUDWIG • (Right) Karl Ludwig, a Monclova Township native and graduate of The Ohio State University, donated one of his kidneys to his instructor in September. MIRROR PHOTO BY KAREN GERHARDINGER

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — When Karl Ludwig signed up to take an elective martial arts class at The Ohio State University last January, he had never given much thought to organ donation. 

On the first day of class, instructor Aaron Gall told students that he was awaiting a kidney transplant, so he might miss some classes to go to doctor’s appointments, or he might not always be in top form during class.

“He joked that he was going to keep his phone on in case he got a call that they had a kidney,” recalled Ludwig, a Monclova Township native and 2019 Maumee Valley Country Day School graduate.

Intrigued, Ludwig saw a link on Gall’s Instagram page about how to become a living donor. Gall was on the waiting list at the OSU Wexner Medical Center and knew that the average wait time to receive a kidney from a deceased donor was five to seven years – especially because of his rare blood type.

That doesn’t surprise Kara Steele, director of community services for the Maumee-based Life Con-nection of Ohio.

“As of November 26, there are 2,538 Ohioans waiting for lifesaving organ transplants, including 1,944 waiting for kidneys,” she said. 

When Ludwig decided to fill out the donor form in March, he wasn’t even sure what his blood type was, but he knew Gall needed someone with rare type B blood. 

“I was specifically looking at donating to him. I had seen stories of people who had donated, and I thought it would be a uniquely cool way to help someone,” Ludwig said.

After one class last March, Ludwig’s decision to move forward was confirmed, as Gall was having a rough week with high blood pressure, headaches and complications from dialysis. 

“I thought, ‘If I have the ability to easily make his life more comfortable, why not?”

The day after he pressed “send” on his donor application, someone from the Wexner Medical Center organ transplantation team contacted him. The next week, Ludwig had an appointment to have blood drawn, and he wore a blood pressure monitor to make sure he was healthy enough to donate. Later, he had a full-day workup at the hospital: blood work, urine analysis, chest X-ray, a CT scan of his organs and a meeting with a whole team, including a surgeon, nurse coordinator, living donor advocate, social worker and dietitian. All of the costs were paid for by Gall’s insurance.

“I got the most detailed health workup ever at no cost,” Ludwig laughed.

That information was reviewed by a medical team, who determined that what he initially thought was a long shot was actually a perfect match. Ludwig notes he was assured that – even up until the day of surgery – he could back out for any reason. 

While the instructor and student were on friendly terms, Gall still didn’t know that Ludwig was going through the process. Ludwig graduated and headed out for a European tour and was in London when he learned that the transplant was approved. Gall was informed that a living donor had come forward, but the name of the donor was still a mystery.

“I wanted to be the one to tell him,” Ludwig said. 

So, when he returned from Europe, Ludwig invited Gall to have coffee, hinting that he had a surprise. After more than an hour of catching up, Ludwig dropped the news.

“He said, ‘Are you serious?’ and started sobbing. He was so grateful,” Ludwig said.

In the months between breaking the news and the September 1 surgery, Lud-wig spent time getting to know Gall and his wife.

“His immediate response was to welcome me as a member of his family. I think he’s the coolest person in the world and I wanted to spend time getting to know them. When I tell people about donating now, I just say I donated to my friend,” Ludwig said.

One of the things that Ludwig enjoyed about Gall’s class was his attitude about teaching the martial art of eskrima, a Filipino stick martial art.

“He explicitly talks about how this is a form of combat, but he’s not interested in training people how to fight but in helping people to be good humans,” Ludwig said.

Like Gall, Ludwig enjoys being active, and that was one of his concerns prior to the surgery. An avid rock climber, he asked about side effects from donating one of his kidneys. The only long-term side effect is a need to limit excessive alcohol consumption and high-sodium foods.

“I see this as a net positive for my long-term health. Not having that second kidney will make me more conscious of how I’m eating and how I’m treating my body,” he said.

In the time since donating, Ludwig has found other athletes who feel the same way, including members of Kidney Donor Athletes.

Ludwig has since returned to OSU, where he teaches students leadership skills through outdoor experiences in the Fisher College of Business’s Leading Expedi-tions Program. He believes his donation was worth it.

“There’s a national shortage of kidneys for people eligible for transplants. This is a direct way to make a profound impact and save someone’s life at fairly little cost or sacrifice on your own part. I’d love to be an example for someone who is slightly considering it,” Ludwig said. “I gave an organ, but I gained a friend for life.”

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