Nearly 120,000 people in the United States are waiting for an organ transplant. The wait can take years. Often, a donor organ doesn’t arrive in time to save a life.
For some of those waiting for a kidney transplant, the wait can be shortened by the gift of a kidney from a living donor. Here at UT Southwestern, we performed 62 kidney transplants in 2014, 14 of them from living donors.
There are a number of benefits involved with living donation, but one of the main advantages is that it minimizes the time a donated kidney is on ice. Kidneys from living donors begin working immediately. When the transplant comes from afar – making it necessary for the donated kidney to be on ice for more than a brief time – the kidney sometimes doesn’t work immediately, meaning the patient must continue dialysis for a while.
Patients tend to do better when there’s no delay.
Here’s a story about one of my surgical patients, Dewayne Dunning, and the family friend who gave him the gift of life.
Dewayne and Melissa’s story
Dewayne Dunning and Melissa Robinson met when their children played on the same basketball team. Their families socialize and attend the same church in McKinney, Texas. Dewayne’s wife, Trixie, is Melissa’s best friend.
Dewayne, 48, is a software engineer and manages a communications company. He’s an athlete, as are his and Trixie’s five children. Give Dewayne a minute, and he’ll tell you about his oldest son, who played in the NFL, and about the athletic scholarships each of his children earned. He prides himself on eating healthy, exercising, and staying fit.
So it hit him hard when he developed diabetes and then kidney trouble. Feeling like his body had “betrayed” him, Dewayne watched his weight balloon from 205 to 250 pounds. Heart failure became a concern, so he started dialysis three times a week.
Dewayne didn’t let dialysis take over his life. He’d hold staff meetings over the phone on Mondays while he was undergoing dialysis (a process in which a patient’s blood circulates through a machine that mimics the kidney, removing waste and excess water). He’d work remotely on his laptop during the four-hour dialysis sessions on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Despite Dewayne’s positive attitude, dialysis became increasingly difficult. It wasn’t just the time it took. It was what it was doing to his body. He was losing muscle and couldn’t even walk up a flight of stairs.
He needed a kidney transplant.
Rather than wait for a match from a deceased donor, Dewayne sought a living donor. His wife texted members of their church about Dewayne’s need for a kidney. Numerous people responded, and three were a match. One was Melissa.
Early on the morning of October 20, 2014, doctors began the surgery to remove one of Melissa’s kidneys. When they were close to being done, Melissa’s surgeon let me know I could begin the process of moving Melissa’s kidney to Dewayne. Everything went smoothly, and Dewayne’s new kidney worked immediately.
Dewayne started walking on a treadmill one month after his surgery. In January, he started running. He’s now running eight miles a day, six days a week.
Dewayne is a busy man, the kind of man given more to action than contemplation, but he says he pauses sometimes to think with awe about the gift his friend Melissa gave him. “She said, ‘I’ll do it.’ She never hesitated,” he says.
Why did Melissa do it?
“I just felt that if I was healthy enough to give someone a second chance at life, I needed to do it,” she says.