BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – In August, UAB Hospital completed the 49th, 50th and 51st transplants in the longest living-donor kidney transplant chain.
Since 2013, 102 total surgeries have been performed, with 51 kidney transplants completed.
If you have a loved one that has needed a kidney, or is currently on a transplant waiting list, you know how heart wrenching the process can be. Patients in Alabama can wait up to 12 years to receive a kidney on a traditional wait list. Now, there is another option that UAB calls the paired exchange program.
Today, Jerry Phillips and 16-year-old Levon Madison are alive because of kidney donors like Janaka West and Colby Heatherly.
“It’s overwhelming just to know that you get to help someone and make them feel better. It feels really good,” West said.
Phillips, a North Carolina native, was just seven when he first saw blood in his urine. 31 years later, Phillips was diagnosed with Alport syndrome, a condition that can cause hearing and eye problems and other health issues like kidney failure. Phillips received his new kidney August 6 at UAB Hospital. Janaka West donated the kidney that went to Phillips. West’s mom, Janet Henderson, was recipient number 49 in the chain.
Donor number 49 is recent UAB graduate Colby Heatherly. He said his only goal was to give to someone in need.
“This will be my legacy. If I die after doing this, at least I would have done something with my life,” said 29-year-old Heatherly. Heatherly is the ninth altruistic donor to be part of the chain.
These donors, recipients and families are part of a growing network.
“It was nothing short of a miracle that my son received a kidney so fast,” said Elaine Madison, Levon’s mother.
In 2013, Pelham, Ala. resident Paula Kok started a chain reaction. She decided to donate one of her kidneys to someone in need. Kok did not have a specific person she wanted to give to; she simply knew she wanted to give. The daughter of the woman who received Kok’s kidney gave to a recipient in Mobile. That woman’s friend gave to another woman. The chain continued to grow.
“It’s just such a huge impact on so many people. Right now the chain is huge. That’s 100 people all together. Let’s get it to 1,000,” said Heatherly.
The transplant chain has since involved people from 11 states — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
“If you have a living donor brought in, we will work on that right away and we hope to find you something within a year,” said Katie Stegner, RN.
That means that if someone wants to give you their kidney, but isn’t a match, if they donate on your behalf that automatically puts you on a shorter waiting list.
“I see myself as a small part of this story. I am the one that is benefiting. It is my donor and the other donors that step forward to keep this chain going that are the true heroes here,” said Phillips.
Stegner said you can still help with this movement even if you are not in a position to donate a kidney. She said the more people who know about this program, the more lives can be saved.