Russ Cupps- Donor Mentor

Russ donated a kidney altruistically in 2010 and has been involved with ATF ever since.

Russ’s Transplant Story

My journey began back in 2008 at the Elephant Rock bike ride.  Ironically it was at the American Transplant Foundation’s booth that I had my eyes opened to the fact that you can be a living donor and still go on with your daily life.

With this bouncing around  in the back of my head, It dawned on me just how entitled and self-centered our society has become. I noticed that on any given day you could drive down the road and people would just as soon wave at you with one finger as opposed to smiling as you merge into traffic.

Where would all of the stop, and why was it like this?  I didn’t, and I still don’t have the answers to those questions however I knew what “I” could do.

My hope was to do something that would “drastically” change somebody’s life for the better with the outcome snowballing and possibly causing others to step up and “pay it forward”.

And yet, another heart tug was found within my job as a firefighter/medic. We would frequently go on calls with people on dialysis and seeing the lifestyle that dialysis confines it’s patients to.  I was fortunate to speak to many people that had received the gift of a kidney, and just how life changing that was.

From there I had a pretty good idea what I needed to do.  I began testing at the end of 2009 into 2010 and by the first part of September 2010 everything was wrapped up and we were ready to go.

The transplant coordinator at University of Colorado asked me which “list” I would like to be placed on.  I told her, “Just put me on all of the lists”.  Someone out there needed a Kidney, I had a spare.  I like to think of it this way, “Got guts, Share Em”!!

Pretty straightforward after that, September 28 of 2010, I was an anonymous kidney donor to a 22-year-old male from Colorado Springs.

I did have the opportunity to meet the recipient a few weeks after the transplant surgery.

Since that time it’s been full steam ahead with ATF and Donor Alliance seeking ways that we can truly make a difference in many peoples lives.

What do you do for a living?


What do you do for fun, hobbies and to generally stay active?

Biking, diving, travel, shooting… essentially anything that “Tim The Toolman” would get his hands dirty with.  At almost any time you can find me under the hood of my car.

What are your passions?

I would have to say my biggest passion resides in the “transplant arena”. Not that it was anything I chose myself, but it apparently chose me.

Not only am I working with the American Transplant Foundation, but also Colorado Donor Alliance.

For many years I’ve realized that there’s a gap in the process which starts in the field of my employment as a firefighter paramedic. Having taken this into consideration, we have brought Donor Alliance and West Metro Fire Rescue together to facilitate tissue recovery in the field.

In June of 2012, West Metro fire rescue became the first fire based EMS agency in the United States that will initiate referrals directly to Donor Alliance for DOAs and field pronouncements.

We have seen a good number of donations resulting directly from this program with West Metro Fire being neck and neck with the Arapahoe County Coronor for the largest number of agency referrals.  I hope to reach out to neighboring fire, EMS and police agencies and extend our program’s reach in the near future.

Why did you choose to be a mentor?

I felt there was a gap in the donation process. I remember back when I started my process and realized how much information was available on the web, but wondered how much of it was truly credible. I thought it would be very nice to have somebody to go to regarding how the process works before, during and after transplant.

What is your involvement with ATF?

I am currently serving on the Transplant Leadership Council, mentorship committee and Board of Directors.

How long have you been involved?

Since around 2010.

What about being a mentor appealed to you?

Being able to educate others and facilitate people making a significant positive impact in others lives.  Hoping the process will touch many people and open our world’s eyes to…”its not all about me”.  Giving entitlement the “backseat” to personal sacrifice!!

Are you a donor mentor or transplant recipient mentor?

Living kidney donor.

Fun Facts:

  • Favorite Food? DESSERT.
  • Favorite or Dream vacation? My favorite vacation had to be going on the 1996 Titanic expedition. We were fortunate enough to circle directly above the wreck site for about one week while a portion of the hull was being recovered.  Not only did we have a chance to be a part of history but we were also able to meet some of the survivors. 

    Our standard “cookie-cutter” vacation is basking in the sun at the various Sandals resorts with a toss up of Antigua or St Lucia being our favorite to date.

  • Favorite Movie? Schindler’s List…for a reason!!! 

    When we were in Israel we were able to see Oskar Schindler’s grave. I had not seen the movie “Schindler’s List” and knew very little of what he had done. Upon getting back home, I watched the movie and was very moved by what one person could do for so many people. 

    It was Schindler’s list that has fueled the fire within me. Realizing that this one man alone saved 1100 people from death. We in the transplant arena have an open ended, ongoing list of lives that we can save… if we stay focused and “very persistent”. 

    The many times that I have been so frustrated and felt like giving up have also been followed by the biggest breakthroughs. 

    When getting the program up and started with West Metro Fire and Donor Alliance, I would routinely run across people saying why this could not happen.  I felt like I was beating my head against a cinderblock wall.  During this process I had just received yet another discouraging email with a handful of reasons why we could not support the program.  Later that evening, I was driving to dinner with my wife, I told her “Why should I care, people die anyway!!!”. I was so frustrated… I felt like, “If nobody else cares why should I !!!!!” 

    The next day I received an email that proves that God has a sense of humor. The program was a “Go” and we even had a start date. 

    There have been many times where I have questioned the direction, what I am doing or why I am doing this… however placed in Gods hands, he has repeatedly shown me that this truly is “a calling”.

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