The ‘Seeker’ Gives Through a Living Kidney Donation

Matthew Taylor writes about “living an authentic life in a world of artifice” in his blog, “The Seeker.” This week, he posted a frank and engaging piece about donating one of his kidneys to his wife, who suffered from polycystic kidney disease.  Here’s an excerpt:

“After some soul searching, I decided to give her one of mine. It was not an easy decision to make since there were many factors to consider, but I am at peace with it now. In fact, I’ve come to appreciate some things about a kidney transplant that I never would have thought of before.”

Taylor, a writer who lives in Rockville, Md., gave the University of Maryland Medical Center, where his donation and his wife’s transplant were performed, permission to direct readers to his post,  “25 Ways to Appreciate a Kidney Transplant.”

The University of Maryland Medical Center is home to the second-largest kidney transplant program in the country. The surgeons involved in Taylor’s donation and his wife’s transplant were Michael Phelan, MD; David Leeser, MD; and Stephen Bartlett, MD.

A Gift of Life and Friendship After a Family’s Loss

The weekly StoryCorps segment on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition is a highlight for the show’s listeners. Today’s StoryCorps interview was very special to staff at UMMC.

Rick Bounds received a lifesaving liver and kidney transplant here in 2007. Today, he’s a healthy triathlete with four competitions and a 100-mile bike ride to his name. And he serves as a member of the Medical Center’s Patient and Family Partnership Council.

Go to the NPR site to hear or read the conversation between Rick Bounds and Dorothy Biernack, whose husband, Marty, was the organ donor who made it possible for Rick to live. Rick and Dorothy get together several times a year to celebrate Marty’s lifesaving final gift.

UMMC Mentorship Plants Seeds of Discovery With Local Student

by Lauren Goldschen

As a rising senior at Atholton High School in Howard County in August of 2010, I was excited to start my Intern/Mentor Program provided through my school. This program encourages students within the Gifted and Talented Program to apply for internships/mentorships with professionals who hold careers students admire. I’ve always wanted to become a doctor, and I envisioned my mentor as a local physician who would teach me how to schedule patients and take vital signs.  I did not anticipate that the reality of my internship would actually entail observing transplant surgeries and becoming a published author in the #1 peer-reviewed surgery journal, Annals of Surgery.

Finding a mentor for the program was certainly a struggle as I applied to numerous physicians throughout the area. My high school teacher, Mrs. Natalie Kelly, and I received numerous rejections from local physicians. I stumbled upon the University of Maryland Medical Center’s (UMMC) website, which conveniently listed physicians’ names with contact information and their ongoing research projects. I selected a variety of doctors and sent emails explaining the intern/mentor program and asking if they would serve as my mentor.

Although I anticipated more negative feedback, I was amazed that multiple doctors at UMMC responded and agreed to participate as my mentor. It was even more incredible that the first positive response came from Dr. Stephen Bartlett,  Peter Angelos Distinguished Professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Chair, Department of Surgery at UMMC, and Surgeon-in-Chief and Vice President of the University of Maryland Medical System, who graciously agreed to serve as my mentor.

On my first day with Dr. Bartlett, I watched him perform a kidney transplant. And on my second day, I met Dr. Bartlett’s colleague,  Dr. Rolf Barth, assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and transplant surgeon at UMMC, who would become another one of my mentors.

My internship project was to compare patient satisfaction rates of living kidney donors who donated via the novel single-port donor nephrectomy versus living donors who donated via the standard multiple port technique. UMMC’s single-port donor nephrectomy utilizes a single incision in the belly button to remove a kidney from living donors. UMMC was the only the third hospital in the country to adopt this single incision donation technique as the standard of care for all living kidney donors.

The UMMC transplant team believed that this technique, which is more cosmetically appealing and less invasive, could attract more living kidney donors and help decrease the growing kidney transplant wait list. But before the procedure could be promoted, the surgeons first needed to determine if donors preferred this novel single-incision procedure to the standard multiple port procedure.

I began my internship project by writing a survey for living kidney donors that addressed their pain levels after donation and satisfaction rates with the overall donation process. The surveys were distributed to UMMC donors of both the novel single-port and the standard procedure. Read about the survey data that were published in the Annals of Surgery.

My internship was extremely rewarding and memorable, and I’m continuing my internship with the transplant team now as a college student. I enjoy accompanying the doctors on hospital rounds and observing the transplant surgeons interact with their patients. There have been numerous teachable moments, especially in the operating room in which I get to learn about anatomy from a truly unique perspective. I also value the advice that both Dr. Bartlett and Dr. Barth share with me regarding college decisions and future medical career plans.

Although I always knew I wanted to be a doctor, I had never before considered the research aspect of medicine. However, this internship experience has certainly sparked my research curiosity. Currently, I work in a cell biology lab studying the aging process of kidneys, and this summer I am again working at UMMC with Dr. Bartlett and Dr. Barth to investigate the transplant results of different immunosuppressant drugs.

This fall I will be a sophomore Biology Major/Spanish Minor at the University of Pittsburgh. I plan to attend medical school, and due to the wonderful opportunities provided by Dr. Bartlett, Dr. Barth, and the UMMC team, I know that research will always be a fundamental part of my medical career.

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!






Living Donor Fundraiser Exceeds $10,000!

In follow-up to a post from Marla Blackwell on living kidney donation, we are grateful to report that the 4th annual ‘Night with Nashville’ concert and fundraiser reached a new milestone by raising more than $10,000 on September 8!

Guests partied the night away to country tunes from recording artists Megan Mullins and James Wesley, and lucky bidders walked away with silent auction memorabilia from stars like Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert, Sara Evans, Justin Moore, Jewel, and Alabama.

These funds will help support the Living Donor Follow-Up Clinic, which provides medical care for up to two years post-donation to people who have given the gift of life through living organ donation. Donations are still being accepted.

Thanks to Marla and Lee Adams for your rockin’ efforts! Can we get a yeehaw, y’all?

Annual Concert “Rocks” for Living Donor Clinic

By Marla Blackwell

Editor’s Note: In 2008, Marla Blackwell donated a kidney to her mother.  During her first visit to UMMC, her social worker put her in touch with Lee Adams, who had donated a kidney the year before.  Adams is also the person who created the UMMC Living Donor Follow-Up Clinic Annual Benefit Concert.  Marla felt compelled to help Lee with the event and has been involved ever since. This year, Marla will assist in hosting the fourth annual Night with Nashville fundraising concert on September 8 in Falling Waters, WV.  Read Marla’s story below:

If I had been told earlier in my life, “Someday you will be donating a kidney,” I wouldn’t have believed it. Though, on June 18, 2008, I did that very thing.  At the age of 34, I donated a kidney to my mother.

But it wasn’t as easy as that.  For all the mothers, you may relate to my mother who made it very clear to all of us, three years before I donated to her, that she would not be taking a kidney from any of her children.

Those three years passed on by. My mother fought every day to stay alive, but her disease eventually took complete control of her body. It was early January of 2008 that I decided to do research on the single incision laparoscopic kidney removal to gather more information about the procedure.  My mother had mentioned she was in touch with the University of Maryland Transplant Center, so I started my research on their Web site and found a previously recorded surgical webcast of a living donor kidney transplant.  It was fascinating and I said to myself,” I can really do this.”

I did a little more homework on the procedure, the recovery and the long-term effects and didn’t feel any reservations about going through with it. It’s worth noting at this point that this story represents my personal experience and my feelings about donating a kidney. It is different for each living organ donor, such as Lee Adams, author of Donor Girl, who illustrates each moment of her experience as a living donor in her inspirational book.

My mother did eventually agree to proceed with the testing, and it turned out I was an excellent match for her. The overall experience with the UMMC Transplant Team was amazing from the moment I went for my initial testing until the day I was released from the hospital. It was during my very first visit to UMMC that I met my social worker, who offered to put me in touch with a woman who had donated a kidney one year ago and understood what I was going through.

That woman is Lee Adams, and every year she conducts the UMMC Living Donor Follow-Up Clinic Benefit.  The benefit raises funds for the UMMC Living Donor Follow-Up Clinic, created by Matthew Cooper, M.D.  Dr. Cooper and the UMMC Transplant Team implemented this program to provide living organ donors the quality medical follow-up care they may need after donating life.

I was compelled to help, and I reached out to Lee to see how I could be involved.  Since then, I have embraced this wonderful cause and it’s been quite a humbling experience to be able to give back and be part of this awesome benefit.  Throughout the past few years, the UMMC Living Donor Follow-Up Clinic has been able to provide follow-up support to many living donors through the generous contributions from others.

The clinic provides various services, including emotional support through the availability of counselors. This is an area of the clinic I am very passionate about and hope to see continue to grow and expand.  The donor makes the decision to donate life and embraces the experience, although the unexpected emotions from others around them, such as family members, may occur weeks or months after donation. To know the clinic is available for this type of support for donors is priceless.  As Lee Adams states, “I was ecstatic to hear that UMMC was opening a living organ donor clinic that would offer follow-up care at six months, one year and two years. The chance to meet with doctors, counselors and nurses who understood a donor’s needs and knew what to expect in our recovery made me feel much more comfortable that my future health was as important as the recipients. And for a donor who volunteers to put their health on the line, that is a very important reassurance.”

Since my donation three years ago, I married my best friend, Brian Blackwell, and we are expecting our first child in January.  The experience of donating has been life changing in every way and I will forever be an advocate for living organ donors.  I look forward to raising funds for the UMMC Living Donor Follow-up Clinic for many years to come.

The UMMC Living Donor Follow-Up Clinic is continuing to make monumental strides in making a difference in living donor’s lives.  I would like to thank the entire UMMC Transplant Team for all their unconditional support and for providing the ultimate follow-up care for living organ donors.

Note: The UMMC Living Donor Follow-Up Clinic was designed to provide basic needs for the donor and any donation-related complication after their surgery. It is required that all living donor programs provide follow-up appointments at six months, one year and two years post-donation. The goal of UMMC’s clinic is to ensure donors’ kidney health remains stable following the donation.  After the 2-year anniversary of their organ donation, the UMMC Living Donor Follow-Up Clinic remains available for donors that have ongoing needs related to their kidney health or need answers to simple questions regarding preventative medicine to ensure their best quality of life.

The Ultimate Match Game: Donors and Recipients in Triple Kidney Swap Meet for the First Time

There were plenty of hugs to go around when six patients involved in a triple kidney swap conducted at the University of Maryland Medical Center met for the first time on July 8, 2011. Each recipient originally came to the hospital with an intended donor: a spouse, a sibling and a church friend.

However, when the blood and tissue typing revealed their intended donors were not a match, all three pairs entered UMMC’s Paired Kidney Exchange (PKE) Program, which seeks to create swaps among incompatible pairs. All six patients met for the first time today at UMMC to talk about their experiences since the transplants took place on June 15, 2011.

“It was a great experience to help someone I never met,” said Karen Becker, 54, who entered the PKE program after she found out she was not a match for her husband, John, who had been diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease. By enrolling in the PKE program, Karen was still able to help someone in need — ultimately donating a kidney to Mae Opie, a 73-year-old grandmother from Bel Air who also was living with polycystic kidney disease.

Mae’s original donor was Jesse Epperley, a 28-year-old fellow church member who felt called to donate his kidney after reading about Mae’s need in the church bulletin. When Mae and Jesse didn’t match, he entered the PKE program, and his kidney went to Paul McSorley, a 55-year old from Harford County, who did not match with his fraternal twin, Joy Hindle. Joy ultimately donated her kidney to John Becker, who also suffered from polycystic kidney disease.

All three donors had their kidneys removed through single-incision laparoscopic surgery (SILS) through their belly buttons. The University of Maryland Medical Center was the first hospital in Maryland and only the third hospital in the country to offer this minimally invasive technique for living kidney donors. Donors are often amazed at how easy the surgery can be. “I came out of surgery with nothing but a Band-Aid,” said Hindle. “I couldn’t believe it. It’s amazing; I have no scar.”

See the complete photo gallery here.

Donate Life: A Transplant Surgeon’s Powerful and Personal Plea

By Matthew Cooper, M.D.
Director of Kidney Transplantation

Recent world events are a powerful reminder of life’s uncertainty. Even if everything seems fine today, none of us really knows what dramatic changes or tragic circumstances we might face tomorrow. The more than 110,000 Americans waiting for lifesaving organ transplants feel the pain of an uncertain future each and every day.

April is National Donate Life Month, an excellent opportunity to learn more about organ and tissue donation. There are many great resources to answer some of the questions you or a family member may have about living donation as well. The University of Maryland Medical Center Web site has a whole section on living kidney donation, including answers to frequently asked questions. Data is available on the United Network of Organ Sharing’s Web site about the numbers of patients waiting, the time with which they wait for that call, and efforts at a national level to improve the quality and outcomes for organ transplantation.

Organizations such as the National Kidney Foundation have initiatives like “End the Wait!” and provide readers with basic yet substantial things that can be done on a personal level to help make a difference to someone in need. Importantly, register as an organ donor on the National Kidney Foundation Web site or sign up for your state’s donor registry in conjunction with the Department of Motor Vehicles. Share your wishes with your family and talk about your decision to inspire others.

As a transplant surgeon I have the privilege of seeing day by day the life-changing (literally giving life to another human being) opportunities via organ donation. A recent example was the inspiring case of 26-year-old Drew Sollenberger, who came to us wanting to donate a kidney to the person of greatest need. This person turned out to be a 2-year-old boy with life threatening kidney disease, who now has a second chance at life.

I regularly share with anyone who will listen that I know I have the best job in the world. We have an incredible team made of truly wonderful individuals invested in transplantation here at the University of Maryland. A group of hundreds is necessary to make certain we protect this valuable resource in an organ for transplantation. But we cannot do this job we love without you. It only takes one … one decision to last for another’s lifetime.

Life is like a relay race. When my run is complete, I hope to pass the baton to someone who is waiting to receive the gift of life to advance on their own journey. I cannot be sure that they will win or even finish the race, but without someone to pass the baton, I know that they will continue to wait or may even die prematurely.

While you can’t control the future, you can choose to pass on the Gift of Life to make a lifetime of tomorrows possible by registering as an organ and tissue donor and considering living donation.

April is Donate Life Month!

Other Posts by Dr. Cooper

A “Transplant Miracle”

Twenty-six-year-old Drew Sollenberger wanted to donate a kidney.

Two-year-old Ethan Hatton needed a new kidney to live.

Their separate stories became one thanks to the University of Maryland Medical Center, whose doctors removed one of Drew’s kidneys and inserted it in Ethan on January 19, 2011.

Watch the videos below to learn the whole story and to see the first meeting between donor and recipient. You will be glad you did.

The (Non-Directed) Donor: “Giving a little child another chance at life seemed like a no brainer.”

The Recipient: “How do you get an adult kidney into a two-year-old?”

The Meeting: “He’s almost part of the family now, because he gave Ethan the one gift he needed — a new kidney.”

Becoming A Non-Directed Kidney Donor

This four-minute video features living kidney donor Drew Sollenberger discussing why he felt it was important for him to become a non-directed donor. A non-directed donor is an individual who expresses a desire to donate one of his or her kidneys, but who does not have a recipient to receive the organ.

Dr. Matthew Cooper, director of kidney transplantation and clinical research in the Division of Transplantation at the University of Maryland Medical Center, also appears in the video to discuss the process of becoming a non-directed donor, including the benefits available to donors as a result of a new, minimally invasive surgical technique now being employed to remove the kidney from the donor.

Drew’s kidney was donated to a young child who was struggling to survive before the kidney became available.

Related Information: