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Live Donors Give Second Chances through Kidney Donations

Jeffrey Ammon, 48, of Valencia was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age 10. Though he relies on insulin to maintain his health, his kidneys have begun to fail and as a result, he is looking for a donor while also waiting on the national transplant list.

“Unfortunately, there are not enough donors available—it could take years to get a kidney,” explained Ammon’s sister, Carol Jeuther. “That puts the onus on the person needing the kidney to find a live donor, which is why we started looking for a donor at the beginning of 2020.”

According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, approximately 107,042 people are on the national transplant waiting list, with another person added every nine minutes. The list includes people waiting for livers, kidneys, hearts, lungs and other organs. Approximately, 100,000 Americans are on the waitlist for a kidney transplant.

“A large majority of organ donations occur via a deceased donor. However, living donation is possible with certain organs and tissues, allowing us to save more people in desperate need of a transplant,” said Dr. Abhi Humar, UPMC’s chief of transplantation.

“UPMC typically does about 100 live donor kidney transplants a year,” he continued.

“During a living-donor kidney transplant, we will remove a healthy kidney from a living donor—whether a relative, friend, or stranger—and transplant it into the person with kidney failure.

“Anyone who needs this type of transplant could potentially have one if we had enough suitable donors,” he added.

Looking for Help

When most people learn that they need a kidney, they first approach family and friends to see if they can find a suitable match. If that fails, they widen the circle to share the need.

Jeuther reached out on Nextdoor and Facebook about her brother’s plight, and also has the information posted on the outside of her car for people to see.

“So far, about four or five people have inquired about helping, and I’ve directed them to the website, which walks them through the process,” she said. “People don’t even need to let me know that they’re getting tested to be a match; the site tells me that someone is getting tested, but doesn’t tell me who.”

Ammon’s brother, Tim, was approved as a kidney donor, but unfortunately can’t donate to Jeffrey because he is the wrong blood type. “Others have gotten tested as well, but weren’t a good match,” said Jeuther.

According to Dr. Humar, those who want to donate must be healthy and undergo an extensive evaluation to make sure that they have no underlying medical issues.

Jeuther has hope that they will find the right donor; Ammon’s cousin, Rich Maize, has had two kidney transplants and a pancreas transplant. The first kidney transplant failed after five years; the second was a success and he no longer has diabetes and has returned to a regular life, despite being on dialysis before the operation.

“It’s a great opportunity to get some good karma,” said Jeuther, who has been encouraged by the people who have reached out to find out more.

The testing process itself does not require a big time commitment; according to Dr. Humar, it can be done in one day. “The time commitment comes with the surgery; the procedure itself takes three to four hours, followed by a two-day recovery period in the hospital and a few more weeks before the person’s life returns to normal,” he said.

The procedure and all direct costs are paid for by the recipient’s insurer, though indirect costs such as lost wages, travel and lodging are not covered. However, there are national funds that can be applied for to help with those expenses.

“Everyone has a different story, but at the core of it, the reason that a person donates is because they want to help another person,” said Dr. Humar. “Donors generally tend to be very altruistic and have done good things for others throughout their lives, and this is an extension of that.”

While Ammon is still going to work every day, his kidney function is decreasing and without a donor, his next step is dialysis, which is why Jeuther is asking for help now.

“I’m more than happy to answer any questions,” she said, asking that potential donors reach out to her at 724-766-0984 for more information.

“A lot of people aren’t aware that live donation is a possibility—even people who sit on the waiting list for a long time hoping for a deceased donor transplant,” said Dr. Humar. “We’re here to help.

“As one of the largest living donor transplant centers in the country, we have a lot of expertise in this area,” he added. “Our mission is to help patients reduce time spent on the transplant waiting list so they can get back to enjoying life with family and loved ones.”

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