Organ Donation Crisis – How to Help Save a Life

IT IS NOT EASY request a loved one, let alone a stranger, to donate their kidney to you.

But that’s the predicament that more than 90,000 people find themselves on a kidney waiting list each year. Fewer than 20,000 are lucky enough to get one, which prolongs and improves their lives immeasurably. After a year of dialysis, people have a mortality rate of 15-20%, with a five-year survival rate of less than 50%. Those who receive transplants have a five-year survival rate of over 80%.

One of the nation’s largest kidney transplant centers, the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, is pioneering new ways to recruit more living donors, especially among people from marginalized communities where the needs are greatest. “We first help patients craft a speech elevator to tell their story, and then we help them share their story as a political campaign,” says Daagye Hendricks, one of two navigators for the living donor program at the UAB, created in 2017.

The four-week program involves teaching patients both conventional networking and off-the-shelf tactics. “A patient had a kidney due to an article on a billboard,” says Hendricks. “Someone donated screen time to a patient and a stranger driving down the freeway saw it, felt his heart tug and called to donate.”

The program also demystifies misinformation related to the fear of living kidney donation. For example, there is no reduction in donor life expectancy and they generally do not need to take medication to maintain their remaining kidney. “A lot of people are afraid of doctors,” adds Hendricks. “Especially older patients.” For black donors, pledging to donate an organ means severing the link between this established medical procedure and racially motivated medical malpractice cases throughout history, which range from the looting of Henrietta Lacks’ cancer cells to the 40-year government study of syphilis for which 399 black men in Alabama were test subjects.

The need for black living donors is acute because while blacks make up 13% of the population, they make up 35% of people with kidney failure. (The leading causes for blacks are diabetes and high blood pressure, problems they suffer from at much higher rates than whites.) Currently, blacks make up 28.5% of kidney transplant candidates on the list. waiting, but only 12.9% of organ donors.

Compounding the problem: black patients are often incompatible with a donor population that skews white. (The immune system genes of donor and recipient must be similar, which often rules out interracial donations). to a stranger in need in exchange for an organ for his loved one. Since then, this kidney chain has extended the lives of 126 people. “Yet there are not enough donor organs available to transplant all of these patients,” says Jayme Locke, MD, MPH, director of UAB’s Comprehensive Transplant Institute. “Living donation can help close this gap.”

Dr. Locke also leads a pioneering team in xenotransplantation – animal-to-human transplants – and earlier this year a UAB team performed the first-of-its-kind transplant of a genetically modified pig kidney into a brain. dead. the person. UAB hopes to get FDA approval to move to living people in a clinical trial later this year. “This represents a paradigm shift in xenotransplantation, which is arguably the best solution to the organ shortage crisis,” says Dr. Locke.

But until the process is approved, living human donors, such as the three volunteers featured here, are the best bet. They discovered that by sacrificing one part of themselves to save another, they could gain more than they ever imagined.


BRANDON WALLACE, 37

IT consulting engineer; given to his father, Nathaniel, 64, in 2018.
Alpharetta, Georgia

Spoon Lynsey

A few years before I left the Air Force, my father came to see me and told me he had kidney problems. I just remember thinking, Oh, he’s 64, retired from the army. He will receive free medical care, and everything will be taken care of. But then, over time, he came to me and said, “My kidneys are failing and maybe I need you to be a donor for me.” Then maybe six months into my new job, he said, “We’re going to have to do this.”

He put himself on the donor list, and I got pissed off. I started Googling all sorts of things about people with only one kidney, what it would mean in terms of life expectancy and things like that. Then I was afraid that my father’s body would reject the kidney. Dr. Locke and his team helped clear up the confusion and assured me that I could live a normal life after donation as long as I was disciplined about my health.

I’m the type of guy who ate anything – burgers, steaks – and could burn it all off at the gym and win nothing. And I liked to smoke the occasional cigarette when I went out with friends. But there was no getting around the obvious: to change my father’s life, I had to change my own first.

The day before the operation, January 20, 2018, I go to his house in Birmingham, and it’s just a good family time. On the day of the operation, at some point, it was just me and my dad, joking and annoying the people at the hospital. It calmed me down a lot and was just a reminder that Hey, I love you, and you’re the only person in the world I would do this for.

The scars were a bit awful at first. I have one in my groin area that looks like a C-section scar and two smaller ones on the left side of my abdomen that look like gunshot wounds. I can still feel the scar tissue underneath. I’m running again now, going to the gym and eating lots of salads and lean protein. I have lost about 15 pounds and feel great.

My dad is fine too, but he’s still old. I pester him about it all the time. But I’ll tell you: the only thing this experience gave me was a kick in the ass. It forced me to make better decisions about what I eat. But I’m grateful to be in my late thirties and thinking about my diet when I could have been like my peers and still kicking the road. Really, there’s no good reason not to stay healthy. You never know who else might depend on it.


TAVARES TAYLOR, 44

Independent contractor; given to his girlfriend, Sophia, in 2018.
Birmingham, Alabama

tavares taylor

Spoon Lynsey

My girlfriend had nephrotic syndrome [a disorder that causes your kidney to pass too much protein in your urine]. After being on dialysis for about a year, I decided we weren’t going to risk it getting worse.

I am healthy. I play basketball and I swim. I don’t drink or smoke. Let me give him a kidney. Since it turned out that I had the type of kidney that I could give to anyone, the doctors encouraged me to do a three-way trade: giving my kidney to another person in exchange for a kidney for my girlfriend.

I had doubts about the potential impacts on my long-term health. My mother asked me not to; she was against it. “What if one of your children needed it?” ” she says. What helped me overcome my fears were the courses we took before. We met on Wednesdays for two hours to review everything. There were 14 other people there whom we met and shared our experiences with. It was beautiful.

The operation itself went well. The next day I was walking. After two weeks I was back to 100%. My girlfriend is doing very well. She runs her own custom t-shirt shop, has seen one of her children graduate from college and the other is about to graduate.

I met the person who received my kidney, a 22-year-old white girl. (A black man donated his kidney to my daughter.) Meeting her was a wonderful experience, and every Sunday we exchange check-in text messages. To anyone in doubt, I would say take the classes – learn everything before you make your decision. Not sure who this might help.


LOUIS EDWARDS, 60

Surgical technologist; given to his sister Brenda, 65, in 2019.
Valdosta, Georgia

louis and brenda edwards

Courtesy of Louis Edwards

My older sister, Brenda, had kidney disease that was getting worse and worse. Being a nurse herself and trying to get ahead, she called me and asked if I would consider donating. It threw me for a loop, of course. I love my dear sister, and we’ve always had a special relationship. So I thought about it and I said to myself, Why not? I had life insurance in case something happened to me. My daughter and my wife, even though they wanted to help my sister, were really worried.

It helped that this organ that we are considering, I had two. I was pushing 58, but aside from some severe back pain, I was in excellent health, which I attribute to good genes and a long career in the Air Force, where you had to stay in top shape.

Before the operation, there were many meetings,
lots of poking and pushing. During an MRI, they found a six centimeter stone in my kidney. They thought together to see what to do about it. Once I sank they tried to do a cystoscopy through the urethra but they couldn’t remove the stone. So they just left it and gave it to him with the kidney.

But what’s crazy is that since the kidney came out, I don’t have back pain anymore. My sister didn’t have any problems either; she’s doing great. When I see those [surgical] scars are like a badge of honor. It just ignited an even closer and loving relationship between us.

This story appears in the April 2022 issue of men’s health.


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