Like most kidney transplant recipients, Brian Novak wanted to thank his donor. Unlike most, he soon got the chance. The kidney came from a living donor — his daughter Kristina.
Kidneys from living donors are the best medical option for transplant because they are in better condition than kidneys from deceased donors and last longer, providing a greater chance of long-term success. A living donor transplant also means not being on the national transplant list — a wait that can take years.
No Time To Wait
It had become evident Brian needed a new kidney when, after 25 years of chronic kidney disease, his condition reached end-stage — the stage at which a patient will not survive without either dialysis or a kidney transplant.
At that point, he and his wife, Terri, began researching and visiting transplant centers. They also spoke with a former transplant patient who praised the transplant program at Rush University Medical Center. The choice became clear very quickly.
"Rush gave us one-on-one attention right from the start," Brian says. "At another hospital, we were just part of a large group meeting with a doctor — we were just a number."
At Rush, Brian began the first stage of kidney transplantation: a medical assessment to determine if he was healthy enough to receive a kidney.
At this stage, a patient deemed healthy enough is added to the national transplant list. Though Brian was added to the list, the assessment showed his condition was deteriorating quickly — a living donor transplant was his best option.
Both of his daughters, Kristina and her sister, Katie, signed on for tissue-typing tests to see if either could donate a kidney to her father. They both matched, but Kristina's health made her the best fit. Like other living donors, she then had further tests to make sure the surgery was safe for her.
While this could have been an intimidating process, the relationships the transplant team developed with both Brian and Kristina helped to reassure the Novak family. Each member of the transplant program — which includes surgeons, nephrologists, clinical nurse coordinators, social workers and other professionals — works directly with both the recipient and the donor.
"Everyone knew our first names and took a personal interest in us," Terri says.
From End-Stage to New Life
Brian was able to avoid waiting for a kidney, which is sometimes a long part of preparing for the operation — the second stage of kidney transplantation. He skipped right to the third stage: surgery. Brian received one of Kristina's kidneys in March 2009.
When he awoke after the surgery, someone asked him how he was feeling. "My answer was, 'Like a million dollars,'" he says. "I could tell right away that Kristina's kidney was clearing toxins from my body."
According to Brian’s transplant surgeon, Edward Hollinger, MD, PhD, such good outcomes are typical with kidneys from living donors. "They start working faster, and recovery time is generally much shorter," Hollinger says.
Kristina also experienced a quick recovery, which is typical with the minimally invasive technique used at Rush.
The Gift of Life
Living donation has another benefit: Taking the recipient off the transplant waiting list allows the next person to move up on the list.
About 55,000 people are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant at any given time in the United States. Every year, more than 3,000 of them die waiting. You can change the odds for someone you love by being a living donor.
To see Brian and his family discuss their story, visit www.rushstories.org.
About the Doctor
Edward Hollinger, MD, PhD, has research interests that include donor management, organ preservation, and imaging and functional evaluation of transplanted organs.
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