Kidneys for Communities, the nonprofit that started the first national community-directed living kidney donation program, has launched Kidneys for Communities: Living Donor Connections, a group of living kidney donors who offer a valuable resource to potential organ donors: a shared experience of the kidney donation journey.
“Kidney recipients often consider their donors to be heroes; at the same time, it’s important to remember that altruistic donors often lead normal lives, like so many of us, before they ever considered donating,” said Atul Agnihotri, CEO of Kidneys for Communities. “Living Donor Connections allows for one-on-one dialogue with someone who firsthand understands the unique experience of the living kidney donation journey.”
Those who have stepped up to the Living Donor Connections team are non-directed donors who required their donation to start a donor kidney chain, but that is where the similarities end. The group ranges in socioeconomic background, age and geography. The inaugural members are a college student who donated at age 20; a social worker and mayor; a retired elementary teacher’s assistant; a female Veteran and author; a former firefighter and Veteran; a father of six children and the first person to start a kidney donor chain; a five-time marathon runner; a sports sponsorship professional; and a retired physician who donated at age 68.
Kidney donor and Chair of Living Donor Connections Debbie Shearer leads the group along with Jay Julian, vice chairperson, whose kidney donation launched a seven-person paired kidney chain.
Liz Dotson, an inaugural Living Donor Connections member and a single mom, had many concerns about family, including: “What if your dad or your daughter needs a kidney someday?” While typically a donor can obtain a kidney voucher to use in the event that a family member needs a kidney, Liz responds, “I can’t let the fear of someone I know possibly needing my kidney in the future keep me from doing this when I know that there is a person out there who definitely needs it today.” Dotson’s donation started the first international transplant chain.
Based on the U.S. Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) data, of those who receive kidneys from living donors, an estimated 95 percent know or are associated with the donor through their community network. The community-directed donation model allows potential donors who belong to membership-based associations to direct their lifesaving donation based on a personal affinity or a community they want to support.
Living Kidney Connections members support the power of community through involvement in associations including Embracing the Journey, an organization that supports parents of LGBTQ+ children; National Society of Collegiate Scholars; The American Legion; The International Association of Fire Fighters; the Head Start Association; Veterans associations; religious affiliations; and more.
Matt Jones, an inaugural member of Living Donor Connections, who started the world’s first pay-it-forward kidney chain in 2007, shared, “You don’t have to be someone special or important to change the world.”