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The pain of the waitlist: What it's like to wait for a kidney transplant at 33

Carrie Sharp Oragan Donations 1 06-15-2022.jpg_frame_243.jpeg
Posted at 8:52 PM, Sep 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-24 14:59:41-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF)  — When most people think about organ donation, it involves an end-of-life decision. But more than ever, there is a need for living donors. Kidney donations are the most successful and common living organ transplant.

NewsChannel 5’s Carrie Sharp learned about the process first-hand while attempting to donate a kidney to former NewsChannel 5 photojournalist Alex Brown. A doctor's mistake in treating his ulcerative colitis landed him in the hospital.

“They determined I have this condition called drug-induced interstitial nephritis,” Alex said.

Testing brought news he wasn’t expecting. At 33, this husband and father would need a kidney transplant.

“The result of the biopsy was that I had lost at least 60% of my kidney function in both kidneys.

The revelation could turn anyone bitter.

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“I find the two of us don't sit in this place very often, of [this] could have been prevented, we shouldn't be here, no one will ever be held accountable,” said Jenna Brown, Alex’s wife.

Instead, it put the Browns on a mission to find a living donor, which will give Alex the best chance at life. Though, admittedly, asking someone for a kidney is difficult.

“How do you even go about asking for a kidney in the first place? I have a hard time asking for someone to give me $20,” Alex said.

Kidney donations are the most common and successful among living donor transplants. A donor can be a family member, friend or even a stranger. Medical testing is done beforehand to check for compatibility and overall health — all paid for by the recipient's insurance. Patients spend, on average, three to five years waiting for a kidney from a deceased donor.

A living donor is the best option as it allows recipients to live longer, healthier lives. Either way, it's a process that requires patience and living with uncertainty.

“It really has changed every single thought that we have for our family moving forward with what we have right now,” said Jenna.

Two years have passed since Alex’s diagnosis, and time is ticking by.

“Right now, I think I feel fine, but my doctors say once you get a kidney, you'll realize how bad you were feeling.”

While the Browns remain hopeful to find a living kidney donor, there is no doubt this journey can be hard on the heart, and sometimes the tears fall.

“Alex lives a life worth saving,” said Jenna, choking back tears.

If you want to know more about Alex, click here.

Here is some information about becoming a living donor: donatelife.net/types of donation/living-donation

To learn more about being an organ and tissue donor at the end of life, click here: bethegifttoday.com

A note from Carrie:

My journey to donating a kidney to Alex was unsuccessful.

Medical testing revealed I have kidney stones, which thankfully, have never been an issue for me, but nonetheless exclude me from donating. I can tell you I learned so much through the process which led to our in-depth reporting on organ donation.

Carrie Sharp organ donation hospital visit

The living donor process starts with a phone call to the medical facility and a questionnaire about your health history. Beyond the medical stuff, you are paired with a social worker who is solely your advocate through the process. Alex now lives in Kansas City. It’s important to know, donors pay nothing as part of this. The recipient’s insurance covers all medical costs.

Carrie Sharp and Alex Brown

I did some tests here in the mid-state (some urine and blood work) before clearing another hurdle and heading to Kansas City. That’s where the last round of testing took place, and a CT scan revealed those pesky stones. A nonprofit, arranged through the hospital, covered my travel expenses. The only expense to me was a few days off work and a bit of heartbreak finding out I could not donate. But I don’t regret a bit of it. I’m confident there is a better donor for Alex out there.

Maybe that’s you.