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St. Louis Couple First to Succeed in National Kidney Transplant Program

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By Sandra Jordan, Special to the NNPA from The St. Louis American –

It’s been about three months since a St. Louis couple made medical history at Barnes-Jewish Hospital when they swapped a kidney to receive a kidney from a donor and recipient pair in New Hampshire.

The two lives saved were made possible through a new nationwide live kidney swap database, the United Network for Organ Sharing.

Rebecca Burkes donated a kidney that was swapped for another kidney that was transplanted to her fiancé, Kenneth Crowder. “Let’s start a trend,” she said – “kidney swaps in the African-American community, seeing that it affects us so much.”

Burkes said it was well worth it to save the life of her fiancé and that of a woman in New Hampshire who now has her kidney.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure messed up Kenneth Crowder’s kidneys.

Despite taking several medications for high blood pressure prescribed by a former health provider, his kidneys failed. Crowder could urinate, but his kidneys were not doing their essential function of filtering toxins and fluid wastes from his blood. Crowder was experiencing swelling, puffiness in his body, aches and headaches.

“I did not know that my kidneys were being affected,” Crowder said. “I had been sick and ended up going in the hospital, and the doctor said I had kidney problems – ‘next year your kidneys will probably be gone.’ And, just a few months had gone by and my kidneys were gone.”

For more than a year, Crowder had been on dialysis three times a week because of high blood pressure. A machine called a dialyzer is attached to the body through a catheter or by needles. This carries blood from the body into the dialyzer to filter excess fluids, minerals, and wastes from the blood, and then return cleans blood back into the bloodstream. The process is called hemodialysis.

Without a transplant, patients with permanent kidney failure remain on dialysis for the remainder of their lives.

Ironically, Burkes’ fiancée, is a dialysis nurse. She wanted to give Crowder one of her healthy kidneys, but they were not a match.

“A year ago last November we started the process for him in trying to get it, and they told us it would be anywhere from five to 10 years to get a cadaver kidney,” Burkes said.

“We tried to figure out how to get him a kidney faster.”

They started the transplant evaluation process at the transplant center at Barnes. That took about a year. They found out about the new pilot databank in November, and they put their names in the databank.

“They would find you a kidney somewhere in the 50 states, and you would have to give your kidney and then they would give Ken a kidney,” Burkes explained the process.

In New England, there were two Kathys (one with a C, one with a K) in a similar situation.

Kathy Niedzwiecki thought she would be on the transplant list for at least a couple of years. Her sister-in-law, Cathy Richard, wanted to give Kathy one of her own kidneys, but was incompatible. But, she was a great match for Ken Crowder in St. Louis.

This is where the experts at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire stepped in, thanks to the nationwide donor swap pilot.

On Dec. 6, 2010, transplant coordinators from both hospitals flew with the donated organs to Pittsburgh, where they made the swap. They then returned to their respective cities, where the successful transplants were performed.

‘We will follow you for life’

Dr. Jason Wellen, surgical director of the Barnes-Jewish Hospital kidney and kidney/pancreas transplant program, said care for Crowder continues long past the surgery.

“Once you get a transplant at Barnes, we will follow you for life,” Wellen said. “So we will be on top of his blood pressure medicine with him, and we will constantly make adjustments to his blood pressure medicines from now until forever so that he will basically not lose his kidney due to high blood pressure.”

Although Crowder said he is feeling better than he has felt in years and can now enjoy a “regular diet,” regular means eating in a health-conscious manner to avoid hypertension and protect the health of that kidney.

“And yes – diet is a big part of it,” Wellen said. “He needs to watch what he eats, just like any regular patient.”

Moderation is essential for the kidney transplant patient.

“Just like when you donate a kidney, we always recommend people do the same things in moderation,” Wellen said. “So you can have alcohol – just do it in moderation. They can have Tylenol and Advil – just do it in moderation.”

Wellen said there are plenty of people who get along just fine with one kidney.

“Donors live the exact same lifestyle that they lived before they donated, and it’s been shown that they have no higher risk for renal failure and they have no higher risk of long-term death,” he said.

“My one recommendation is not to play contact sports. Other than that, your lifestyle should not change.”

For more information, go to www.barnesjewish.org/kidney-transplant or www.unos.org.

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