Kidney for Life Program Makes Faster Transplant Possible
I first learned about my kidney disease in 2018, when I was in the hospital to deliver my son, Preston. The doctors noticed my creatinine was high, and said it could be due to the trauma of the delivery but to follow up with a kidney specialist. At the time, we also were dealing with health complications with my son, including a two-month neonatal intensive care unit stay and two brain surgeries, so I didn’t give this news much thought.
Four months later, it was confirmed that I had chronic kidney disease, stage 3. Although I have a family history of kidney disease, I was not expecting this news at such a young age – 27. I was otherwise healthy, and felt no real symptoms besides fatigue, but I assumed that was due to becoming a new mom.
In August 2020, my kidney disease had progressed to stage 5, and I needed a kidney transplant to avoid dialysis. The average wait time on the United Network for Organ Sharing waitlist in Georgia is eight to 10 years, and I was told that finding a living donor would be my best option. I soon learned about a relatively new program called Kidney for Life (KFL), a national registry that is able to find the best possible match through various DNA markers. Through this initiative, patients have a lower risk of rejection, less risk of graft failure, and the option to eventually wean down on immunosuppression medication. (For more information, visit www.kidneyforlife.org.)
A Facebook post was shared, asking friends and family to consider becoming a living donor, and I was beyond humbled at the amount of people who were willing to make such a generous sacrifice on my behalf. My husband, Alex, has Type O blood, making him a universal donor. Although he wasn’t a direct match for me, he ended up being the perfect match for someone else through the KFL initiative.
In March 2021, I received my transplant from a donor in Washington, and Alex was able to donate his kidney to someone in Oregon. From start to finish, I waited seven months from the time I was listed, but only 18 hours on the KFL paired exchange wait list. Traditionally, a good kidney match was 6/6, meaning the human leukocyte antigens (HLA) match score was six out of six. (Your immune system uses HLA to see which cells belong in your body and which do not.) However, behind antigens, there are eplets, which are components recognized by antibodies. Eplet mismatch analysis has been proven to be a more precise measure of a donor-recipient match. With the KFL program, my match was an 18/20. This means that we matched in nearly everything. None of this would have been possible without Alex donating his kidney on my behalf.
Five months after the transplant, myself, my husband and son tested positive for COVID-19. I was hospitalized, as my case was severe, and the virus was especially hard on my new kidney. Sometimes, I still can’t believe how God worked it all out, protected my kidney, and that we are celebrating one whole year with a healthy kidney, with no rejection episodes!
– Mallory Woodward is a wife, mother and award-winning floral and event designer with Stylish Stems. She is passionate about using her creative talents to create memorable events.