UMMC Kidney Transplant Team Hangs on for Dear Life

Contributed by Michelle Klein
Pre-Transplant Coordinator, UMMC Division of Transplantation

Scared. Panicked. Frightful.

What am I doing?

These were some of the feelings I was having in the final moments before I rappelled 32 stories from the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel on Saturday, June 9, 2012.  I am scared of roller coasters and water slides. I won’t even ride Space Mountain at Disney World, yet here I was for the second year, strapped into a harness, about to dangle from 32 stories high to benefit Rappel for Kidney Health, a fundraising event hosted by the National Kidney Foundation of Maryland.

Yet as the rappel volunteers lowered me off the roof, a sense of calm came over me. Instead of being scared, all I could think about was how much my jump, along with the rest of the rappellers, was giving someone else a shot at a new life.

I thought about how fearful and scared some of my patients are when facing surgery to receive a transplanted organ or how they feel when they find out for the first time that their kidney failed without warning. I thought about how many trials and tribulations my patients go through even before they reach transplant surgery. I thought about how the National Kidney Foundation of Maryland, through donations and events like this one, is able help so many patients, especially the ones I work with daily at UMMC.

I remembered how excited I was to tell Kelly Meltzer (Director of the National Kidney Foundation of Maryland) that I am not rapelling alone this year – that I had convinced three more people to join me because they also believe in the mission. My fellow team members from UMMC included Deb Evans, Heather Hurley and Michele Postol. I had such a great experience last year that I volunteered to be part of the Rappel for Kidney Health Committee for this year.

These thoughts overpowered any fear I had about rappelling 32 stories. As I made my way down the side of the Marriott, a funny thing happened, I actually began to enjoy it! It was great to have to a bird’s eye view of the Inner Harbor and the water.  It was an honor to be part of the Rappel for Kidney Health event and I can’t wait for next year’s jump!

Here are some key kidney facts from the National Kidney Foundation:

  • More than 90,000 people are on the waitlist for a kidney transplant.
  • 10 people die each day while waiting for a kidney transplant.
  • 26 million Americans have chronic kidney disease, and most don’t know it.
  • Every 5 minutes, someone’s kidney fails.
  • More than 380,000 people depend on dialysis for survival.

As a Pre-Transplant coordinator at the University of Maryland for 6+ years, I am honored to be a part of this institution. We have surgeons who are so technically advanced that they can care for the most complex patients when other centers can’t offer them any options. I have the pleasure of working with the pre- transplant coordinators, assistants, and nurses who live and breathe transplant all day, every day.

I believe that early detection of kidney disease, having a living donor transplant when possible, and getting an early referral to the transplant division can help kidney transplant patients have their best outcomes.

We are still raising money to help fight kidney disease, so feel free to donate to our UMMC Transplant team.

Rappel on!






Transplant Surgeon’s 25-Story Leap of Faith

By Dr. Matthew Cooper
Director of Kidney Transplantation

The most obvious question would be why would someone ever choose to rappel down the outside of a building when there is a perfectly good elevator to get him down to the bottom.

I guess one could say the opportunity to contribute to such a good cause as the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) allowed me to put fear — and common sense, perhaps — behind and look at this as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

When the NKF asked me to act as the Honorary Chairperson for their inaugural fundraiser, Rappel for Kidney Health, I jumped at the chance — no pun intended. I’ve been involved with the NKF both nationally and in the state of Maryland for several years now as a member of the Board of Directors. I did my part as a member of the group but welcomed the chance to individually make a contribution. I did my best to talk up the event both here at the medical center, in the local papers and even on some of the morning talk shows.

You’d be amazed at the looks you get when you try to describe what you have in mind and call it a fundraiser. People made sure to comment about being certain my life insurance was up to date and that my organ donor card was signed (Very funny — transplant surgeon, organ donor card…). I knew it was all in good fun.

The message, though, was clear; kidney disease is a national epidemic and we need to make a concerted effort to screen people for conditions that can lead to kidney failure, research ways to prevent it, and provide access to transplantation to those that develop it!

The experience really was incredible. I think I kept my mind pretty busy right up to the event so it wasn’t until about an hour before my scheduled time that I started to realize what I had volunteered to do. I think it was when I saw my wife, Alicia (incidentally, it was also the date of our 16th anniversary) and two of my three children. I was reminded how fortunate I was to be able to be on the contributing side of a fundraiser rather than to be on the side of need for what those funds could bring.

After strapping on the harness, we had a 1-floor practice run to get our legs under us (or in front of us…). After that it was over the edge, where after a few quick snapshots you realize you’re walking down the outside of a 25-story building. Mind you, it’s all very safe! There is not only a safety mechanism but also a backup ‘brake’ if you rappel too fast. You can even let go completely without fear, although a little fear is probably a good thing. Halfway down I could hear my family cheering me on and I had to just stop and look around at the magnificent view of the Baltimore Harbor from the Legg Mason Building. Never will I see a view like that again from that vantage point.

When I reached the bottom, part of me was relieved but part of me couldn’t believe it was over already. “Let’s do that again!” I thought.

I’d do it again if they asked me and realize it was just one of those things you can’t say no to. I’ll talk about it forever but I’ll be OK for awhile if the greatest worry in my life is whether or not my 6 year old is safe to jump off the diving board.

I found my family around the corner, passed off my gear, and then headed back to the University to perform a kidney transplant -– pretty good day!

Previous Posts by Dr. Cooper