WENATCHEE — First-time business owner Christina Shull has been darned busy so far this year.
After 12 years away, the 30-year-old piercing artist moved back to Wenatchee, the city where she was born and raised. She toughed out the stringent Small Business Administration process to get a loan. And she accomplished one of her life’s goals July 1 by opening her new high-end piercing studio, Integrity Piercing.
Oh, and in January she donated a kidney to a complete stranger. That’s not a metaphor for the struggles of business. Shull’s left kidney now resides inside the body of a person she’s never met and possibly never will.
“Believe it or not, helping someone through an organ donation was at the top of my bucket list,” said the professional piercer. “It was a thing I felt I had to do, felt I could do, to help one of the tens of thousands of people who need a kidney to survive.”
Shull credits the kidney surgery, performed January 14 at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, as the trigger for reassessing her life and aiming her down the path of self-employment and self-sufficiency.
“I was drifting off under anesthesia,” she said, “and had a final conscious thought: I was brave enough to donate a kidney, but not brave enough to quit my job and open my own business. I knew I had to change that.”
Shull officially opened Integrity Piercing in a 1,400-square-foot space at 1207 N. Wenatchee Ave. where she offers body piercing services that includes jewelry — barbells, rings, studs — made of implant- and surgical-grade titanium, stainless steel and gold. Diamonds are an option, too, she said.
Shull left Wenatchee in 2001 in search of top-end training in tattooing and piercing. Along the way, she realized that she was most interested in the aesthetics of body piercing and concentrated on those skills. Over the years, she worked her way up to eventually manage studios in Oregon and Oklahoma, which she’s done for the last eight years.
Shull said she also became involved in the broader dynamics of the piercing industry. She joined the nationwide Association of Professional Piercers, a nonprofit health and safety organization, and later served on its board of directors. She now continues to teach workshops for the group. In two states, she also joined legislative oversight committees to draft and review policies governing licensing and certification of tattoo and piercing artists.
Even with all that experience, Shull still wasn’t quite ready to make the jump to running her own business. But her frame of mind on business and life goals would soon begin to shift.
Two years ago, Shull read a newspaper article about everyday people donating organs to patients desperate for transplants. “It struck a chord with me,” she said. “I wanted to help.”
The organ transplant program at Swedish Medical Center, a pioneer in transplant technology, connects donors with patients and found Shull to be a likely candidate. Testing to ensure an exact match was provided by the program, with costs of travel and housing paid for by a hospital foundation.
Shull received no remuneration for the organ donation. The reward, she said, is the knowledge that she helped.
“I may or may not ever meet this person,” said Shull. “Sometimes recipients choose not to meet their donors because of problems that have risen in the past.” Although not common, incidents of donors contacting recipients months later, even years later, to extract payment — “imposing a guilt trip,” said Shull — have occurred.
Her reward, too, is that the process of organ donation spurred her to take action in her own life, said Shull. With a business plan, SBA loan and studio location in hand, Shull said, “Donating a kidney certainly changed the life of the person needing it. But it changed my life, too.”
She said, “Now, I’m headed in the direction that’s right for me.”