LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — When we hear the words ‘organ donation,’ for many the first thought may be deciding whether to donate organs when you die. However, there are opportunities to be a living donor. One Central Kentucky man in need of a kidney transplant is hoping to find a match.
In 2016, Walker Terhune, an athletic trainer for UK Sports Medicine and Woodford County High School, got a regular health screening which showed he had high blood pressure. After talking with a doctor, they found his kidney function wasn’t normal and soon learned what health challenges he’d be facing.
“What I have is called IgA nephropathy which is essentially an autoimmune disease,” said Terhune. “The kidneys get inflamed and when they do, the tissue scars and once it scars, the tissue is essentially non-functioning.”
Since then, Terhune changed his lifestyle to help keep his blood pressure low and he said he’s been feeling fine. In the last six months though, his kidney function took a dive and he needed to start looking to get a transplant.
“My function is down to 14 percent,” said Terhune. “Essentially, I just monitor my symptoms and try to avoid dialysis if I can.”
Finding a donor isn’t as easy as just finding someone with a matching blood type though. Donors also need to be in excellent health. After family members weren’t able to donate, Terhune posted his story on Facebook and said the responses have been overwhelming.
“Of how many people without hesitation that I talked to were like, ‘Hey, what’s the number? I’ll call and get screened,’” he said.
With the needed criteria to be a donor, the more people who get evaluated, the higher the chance of finding a match. The Living Kidney Donor Program at UK HealthCare helps people like Terhune.
“The amount of appreciation that we have for our living donors is more than we can express. I know that our recipients are forever thankful for their living donors and they all do well,” said Dr, Meera Gupta, an abdominal transplant surgeon at UK HealthCare.
Dr. Gupta says there are more than 100,000 people in the country waiting for a kidney transplant and the more people who are able to become living donors, the sooner those waiting can get the help they need.
“There are about 20,000 to 22,000 kidney transplants done per year and about 6,000 to 7,000 of those are from living donors,” said Dr. Gupta. “If you can imagine if we had more living donors, we’d be able to transplant more people off the list.”
In order for someone to be a living donor, they need to have ideal health conditions.
“They can’t have any other conditions such as an active cancer that they are being treated for, known kidney disease of their own, uncontrolled high blood pressure. If it’s controlled, it might be okay,” said Dr. Gupta.
These criteria can make an individual search for a donor difficult, so the more people who get evaluated by the program, the higher the chance of finding matches. Dr. Gupta says the program also has a system to swap donors and recipients who know each other but aren’t compatible.
“What we can do is enter them into the National Kidney Registry, which is a program in which donors and recipients who are incompatible can enter and find other donors and recipients who are incompatible and then swap,” she said. “So, then one donor can donate to somebody else’s recipient and that donor can donate to their recipient.”
If you’re interested in helping Terhune or anyone waiting for a kidney transplant, you can learn more information on the Living Donor Program at UK HealthCare here.