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Intermountain Healthcare celebrates kidney transplant milestone


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MURRAY — History in the making, a cause for celebration, and a reason to give thanks: That's the way doctors with Intermountain Medical Center announced the 1,000th Living Donor Kidney Transplant Monday.

The news was that much sweeter because the 1,000th was Pam Sheppard, who donated a kidney to her husband, Lee. "Believe me," he said, "we were a perfect match in marriage. Now we are a perfect match again."

On Thanksgiving Day last year, Lee and Pam Sheppard found themselves in an emergency room, followed by emergency removal of both of Lee's kidneys. Lee had been diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease 11 years prior, which killed with his father and grandfather.

In 2010, doctors had told Lee his kidneys would only last about a year. But large, dark cysts soon caused severe pain for Lee and brought concern about cancer from the doctors.

What is ... PKD?
Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is a disorder in which clusters of cysts develop primarily within your kidneys. Cysts are noncancerous round sacs containing water-like fluid. Common complications of PKD include is high blood pressure and kidney failure.
-The Mayo Clinic

Following the surgery, Lee began dialysis and Pam began to ponder giving him her kidney. "It was amazing how many lovely people came out of the woodwork and volunteered their kidneys," she said. "It's not something that's easy to say ‘thank you' to when somebody offers you such a great gift. I felt so privileged that I became the best match."

"How overwhelmingly grateful I am for my wife for making such a sacrifice," Lee said. "We feel so liberated and energized for what the future holds, so we're deeply grateful."

"We already enjoyed a rich love together," Lee added, "but this last year, which has been a journey, has reinforced it in such a way that it's hard to put a finger on it."

Dr. James Stinson, a nephrologist at Intermountain Medical Center, recalled the first such donation, 28 years ago, when sister gave a kidney to her brother. "It freed him from dialysis and gave him many years of life that he would not otherwise have had," Stinson said.

He also praised the medical team and staff who coordinate to make successful transplants possible.

Want to be a donor?
If you're interested in becoming a living organ donor, you must meet the following criteria:
  • Must be over 18; age 60 or so is the upper age range.
  • Must be a willing donor - no payment for donation is allowed.
  • Must be healthy - no history of diabetes, hypertension, no history of recent or recurrent kidney stones or multiple kidney infections, no history of cancer; weight must be below a body mass index (BMI) of 32.
  • Must be psychologically stable, able to make sound decisions, and demonstrate understanding of risks and benefits of donation.
  • Must be a compatible blood type and have a negative crossmatch with recipient.
  • If you meet the above requirements, you can register to be a donor at www.yesutah.org.
  • Dr. Diane Alonso, a surgeon with the Intermountain Transplant Team, said Monday's milestone recognizes the courage and generosity of the human spirit.

    "It cements that living donation is a vial source of organs, not only in this state, but in the country," Alonso said. "At our institution, 50 percent of our kidney donations are from live donors."

    That cuts down on the wait time for a kidney. In Utah, patients wait an average 10 months for a transplant. In California, however, the wait can be up to five or six years.

    Six months before she was cleared as a match, doctors discovered Pam had nodes on her lungs, so there were more tests to find out if she had cancer. By mid-October 2011, she became the official donor.

    Lee and Pam went into surgery together and came out together. They could be seen walking the halls, pulling their IV stands and holding hands.

    "This is a thousand live donors whose lives have been turned around, and they can again feel like they can contribute to society. That's just fabulous." Pam said.

    And with a bright smile, she added, "It'll be a much better Thanksgiving than the last one."

    "That's for sure," Lee echoed.

    Anyone can be screened to find out if they are a match for a patient who needs a kidney or a liver. Intermountain Medical Center's transplant team has performed 31 of these so-called "Good Samaritan" surgeries since 2002.

    Email: cmikita@ksl.com

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