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February 28, 2012 > Your Kidneys - The amazing organs you can share

Your Kidneys - The amazing organs you can share

Free seminar explains kidney transplantation for recipients and donors

In the U.S., one adult in every nine - that's 26 million people - has chronic kidney disease (CKD), the National Kidney Foundation reports. Another 20 million Americans are at increased risk of getting the disease.

Kidneys play numerous vital roles in our body. Their main job is to keep water, minerals and electrolytes in good balance in our body. They also remove toxins and produce hormones that control blood pressure, stimulate the bone marrow to produce red blood cells and contribute to bone health.

Of the 46 million Americans who have CKD or are at risk, up to half are unaware of their condition. That's because kidney disease develops slowly and symptoms often don't appear until the late stage of the condition, when the patient's kidneys start to fail. When kidney failure occurs, patients must have frequent, regular dialysis treatments or get a kidney transplant.

"The good news is that people can live a healthy life with just one kidney, so many of us are good candidates to donate a kidney to someone in need," said Lucia Yumena, MD, a board certified nephrologist (kidney specialist) on the medical staff at Washington Hospital in Fremont. "For the vast majority of patients, a kidney transplant gives them a new lease on life."

The problem is that the number of people on the waiting list for a donated kidney has continued to rise, while the number of kidneys available for transplant has not. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 97,000 Americans are now waiting for a kidney donor. Some have been waiting for many years. Meanwhile, the number of people who are on dialysis continues to rise.

To increase public awareness of this vitally important issue and how the community can help, Washington Hospital is sponsoring a free community seminar, "Kidney Transplants: What You Need to Know," in observance of World Kidney Day 2012.

At the seminar, Dr. Yumena will introduce the featured speaker, Nicola Ehrenberg, RN, CPTC, kidney transplant outreach coordinator at the University of California San Francisco. Ehrenberg was an organ transplant nurse for eight years and has served as an outreach coordinator for the past five years.

"There are essentially two ways for a kidney transplant to occur," explained Ehrenberg. "The quickest way is for a living donor to give one of their kidneys. The donor does not have to be related to the patient. They can be a friend or simply an altruistic person. The benefits of living donation are that the organ is immediately available to the recipient and surgery can be scheduled when the donor is available."

For patients who do not have a compatible donor, the National Kidney Registry at www.kidneyregistry.org works to match living kidney donors with recipients.

The second method of kidney donation is after the donor has died from brain death.

"Words can't express the gratitude we have for families who are able to see past their grief and loss to think of the needs of patients who are on the transplant waiting list," she said

Ehrenberg recommended that people should look into living donation first because of the shortage of available kidneys on any given day. At the seminar, she will talk further about the process of donating a kidney or undergoing a kidney transplant and what donors and recipients can expect before and after the procedure.

"I'll explain how kidney patients get on the waiting list for a donor and what requirements they must meet," added Ehrenberg. "

People with CKD who are interested should ask their primary care physician if they are at the right stage in the disease to apply for a kidney transplant, and the doctor can refer them to a transplant center."

"For some patients, it is even possible to have a pre-emptive transplant," stated Dr. Yumena. "That means they can have a kidney transplant without having gone on dialysis first."

To get the process started, primary care doctors can also refer a patient to a kidney specialist, who is usually experienced at working with transplant centers. In addition, patients can contact the transplant center themselves. If preliminary qualifications are met, patients will be assessed by a team at the transplant center, including a physician, transplant nurse and social worker.

"At the center, we work with patients and their physicians to assess the risks and benefits of transplantation for each individual," said Ehrenberg, who serves as an advocate for kidney patients, helping them to move through the process. "We want to be sure any potential problems that could hinder the success of transplantation are identified and treated, if possible."

The case is reviewed by a committee, which makes the recommendation for transplant eligibility. Once patients are placed on the transplant list, they should be careful to follow the instructions of their primary care doctor to stay in the best possible health.

Ehrenberg stressed that early referral to a transplant center and thorough screening of the kidney patient is vitally important to achieve the best outcome and because the wait time for kidneys can be lengthy.

"The transplant community is always reviewing and looking for ways to improve the process of putting patients on the wait list to receive a transplant," she commented.

Learn more

To learn more about kidney transplantation and donation, come to "Kidney Transplants: What You Need to Know" on Tuesday, March 6 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Rooms A and B, in the Washington West building at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont. To reserve your spot or for further information, visit www.whhs.com, click on Community Connection and select Community Classes, Seminars and Events, or call (800) 963-7070.

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