WANT TO BE A TWIN? NO PROBLEM

Just give the living gift that keeps on giving.

(This is another writing assignment for my Journalism Feature Writing class this summer. My instructions were to “Identify an issue that has been in the news (on Page One)  in the past month.  Consider the personal impact of the news.  How does it affect people?  Who would talk about this impact? Often, news features are used to ‘localize’ a national or state story and show the impact it has locally. Are local people talking about it?”
I completely misunderstood the instructions and wrote what I thought would be a follow-up local story that referenced a recent national news feature story. I think it turned out okay considering I got the focus completely wrong. As always, let me know what you think and how you think I could have done better.)

While millions of people around the country were celebrating the Memorial Day holiday with cookouts and campouts and parties, often with copious quantities of their favorite alcoholic beverage, Jodi Schmidt and Natasha Fuller were abstaining from that particular type of drink, and for good reason.

First-grader Natasha Fuller is only 8 years old.  However, she and Schmidt, a third-grade teacher in the Village of Oakfield, Wis, where Fuller attends school, were recovering from kidney transplant surgeries—separate, but together. With the support of their families, the two have been preparing for months.

Fuller was at home with her grandmother. She was born with a congenital defect that caused renal failure and was living with her grandmother so she could be close to Wisconsin Children’s Hospital where she had dialysis treatments three times a week while waiting for a donor.

Schmidt, however, has been spending her time leading up to the surgery undergoing testing, first to determine whether she was a match to donate one of her kidneys to Fuller, and then for the many different labs and monitoring tests necessary before the surgery. She also spent time preparing herself, her family, and her students for when the big day finally came to pass. And she quit riding her motorcycle to make sure she didn’t have an accident and jeopardize Fuller’s chances.

Schmidt says, “I can’t wait to watch her get married, go to prom and all that kind of stuff. We’ll be kidney twins forever.”

The mother of 3 says she hardly had to think about it to decide it was something she wanted to do, believing it was a matter of fate and destiny. Schmidt’s husband Rich says, “It’s just who Jodi is,” and says he believes, “The coolest thing about all this is, everyone got to see who Jodi is. I already knew this about her.”

Schmidt talked to USA Today reporters an hour before her surgery, saying, “I’m very excited and I’m more than ready to start the next part of our journey,” claiming, “To change her. In the big picture, that’s what I’ve been called to do.”

Their story has a happy ending, at least at this point in the game. Both surgeries were successful and Schmidt was able to visit Fuller 3 days after the surgery, just before leaving the hospital.

Unfortunately, many people on the organ transplant list don’t have such a happy story.  They are stuck in “The Waiting Place” — the transplant list — for an average of almost 4 years if they are lucky enough to get one at all.

 In fact, according to the National Kidney Foundation, in 2014:

  • 100,791 people were on the waiting list for a kidney transplant (121,678 total waiting for organs); (2,800 in Michigan)
  • Only about 17,000 people received a kidney transplant;
  • 3,668 sick people on the transplant list became too sick to have a transplant and were taken off the list;
  • 4,761 people died waiting for a kidney (over 13 people daily).

To put it another way, less than 17% of the people on the waiting list for a kidney transplant in 2014 actually received one, almost 4% became too sick while waiting to actually have the surgery, and almost 5% died while waiting. As of January 2015, almost 83% of the people on the organ donor list were waiting for kidneys.

ON AVERAGE…

  • Over 3,000 new patients are added to the kidney waiting list each month.
  • Every 14 minutes someone is added to the kidney transplant list.

LIVING DONATIONS

What is so striking about these statistics is the fact that sick people don’t have to wait for someone to die to receive kidneys; they can be removed from living donors since most people are born with two kidneys. Also, with advances in medications to prevent rejection, in many cases it is not necessary for donors to be related to the recipient.

Other organs can be partially removed from donors and be transplanted, including the lung, liver and pancreas. Healthy people can live a full, productive life with just one kidney and the risks are no greater than with any other surgery.

Dr. Art Franke, the Chief Science Officer of the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan, says,

“Living donation is the ultimate gift of life,” […] “The selfless act by the donor gives the recipient a ‘second chance’ to live a fulfilling life.”

There are advantages to the patient when they receive a living donor kidney compared to receiving one from a deceased donor.

  • There is less chance of rejection if the donation is between family members;
  • the “living donor” kidney functions right away because it is out of the body for so short a time;
  • potential donors can have all the necessary testing ahead of time to determine optimal compatibility with recipient;
  • the procedure can be scheduled at a time that is convenient for both parties; and
  • frequently, the alternative of a living donor kidney means the patient doesn’t have to be on dialysis for years while they wait on the national transplant list.

To learn more about Living Donations, visit Gift of Life Michigan’s page How Donation Works or click on one of the resources listed below.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

The National Kidney Foundation Big Ask Big Give Campaign is designed to bring awareness to the extreme need for living kidney donors and to get factual information to the public. Their motto is: “Being a living organ donor lends the opportunity to make better lives possible.”

You can help in several ways.

  • Americans are in need of more organ donors. Add your name to the Organ Donor Registry today! If you are interested in more information about becoming a living organ donor, contact a transplant center near you.
  • Contact your Senate and Congressional leaders and urge them to support the two Bills introduced this year. Ask them to contact the majority leaders of each committee the Bill was referred to and tell them to pass the Bill. According to govtrack.us these bills have died in committee and need your help to pass.

NATIONAL KIDNEY FOUNDATION URGES SUPPORT FOR LIVING DONOR PROTECTION ACT

“The bill is designed to protect the rights of living donors and remove barriers to living organ donation. Specifically, the bill would end many forms of insurance discrimination facing living donors and extend job security through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to those who donate an organ.”

“It’s unfortunate that even today we still see our nation’s living donors being denied insurance or having their premiums increased because they made a selfless decision to donate an organ to someone in need,” said Kevin Longino, CEO of the National Kidney Foundation. “This bill is an important first step to increase access to transplantation by removing the appalling barriers facing living kidney and liver donors.”

INTERNET RESOURCES about ORGAN DONATION & TRANSPLANTATION

If you know someone who may be interested in learning more but they need Spanish Language Assistance, direct them to the Informate.org website  for bilingual information.

Facts about Chronic Kidney Disease

10 Frequently Asked Questions About Organ Donation

Find out how to become a living kidney donor

Gift of Life Michigan
Michigan Donor Family Council
Living Donation Fact Sheet- NKFM

Michigan Transplant Centers 

Big Ask Big Give- National Kidney Foundation

United Network for Organ Sharing

United States Department of Health & Human Services

Donate Life America

Donate Life Coalition of America

National Kidney Foundation Public Policy
NKF current national issues/legislation

NKF Peers Program

American Society of Transplant Surgeons

National Living Donor Assistance Center

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