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What it's like to be a living kidney donor

On Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, at 7 a.m., John Hembree and David Edwards of McDonough, Ga., took part in the state’s first-ever “live tweet” of a robotic nephrectomy and living donor kidney transplantation at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital. Minute-by-minute updates, photos and videos of the two men’s surgeries were shared with the public via five of Piedmont Healthcare’s social media outlets: Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.

“Piedmont does about 70 living donor transplants a year and we never get tired of it,” says Eric Gibney, M.D., a transplant nephrologist. The transplant team first met with kidney recipient David Edwards a few months ago and approved him for the kidney transplant list. Then John Hembree came forward with an interest in donating a kidney, though he didn’t know Edwards was on the transplant list.

Hembree underwent a series of medical, radiologic and psychological testing and was found to be excellent match for Edwards. After learning they were a match, Edwards and Hembree received a surgery date. “We usually see the recipient about three to four days beforehand to do a final check,” explains Dr. Gibney. “John got here yesterday for his last physical with the surgeons. They arrived bright and early this morning.” Edwards will have his surgery immediately after Hembree’s kidney is removed.

A living kidney donor’s experience

“I’m here to be a living kidney donor for David Michael Edwards,” says Hembree, just before surgery. “I didn’t know him prior to making this decision, but we go to the same church. I found out of his need for a kidney after I had begun pursuing becoming a living donor. Piedmont Hospital has taken excellent care and prepared me. I’m ready to go.”

As the team prepares Hembree for surgery, they run through a series of safety checks, such as confirming which kidney is being removed and that they have the right patient. “We just prepped John and positioned him to drape things out,” says Harrison Pollinger, D.O. “We’re going to dock the robot and put our trocars in and get started.”

The need for living kidney donors

“There are about 90,000 people waiting for kidney transplants in the United States,” says Dr. Gibney. “There are about 14,000 kidney transplants a year. Each year, more people are in need of organs and get added to that list.

So that’s one of the things that makes living donation so important is that there’s a fairly limited supply of organs. If there are friends or family members who can give, that can save lives and really extend people’s lives by years and years.”

The recovery process

“We’re now getting ready to take the kidney out,” says Dr. Pollinger. “We’re going to staple the vessels and then place it in a bag. One of the advantages is that we can make the extraction incision smaller so it’s less painful for the donor.” “This is a major team effort,” says Dr. Gibney. “We have such great surgeons in there doing state of the art robotic living donor surgery. The kidney will be handed off to Dr. Tan, who’s the surgical director of our program and just awesome. David was cared for by Josh Wolf, one of our nephrologists, for many years before this transplant."  

“The nurses, social workers and dietitians will be talking to John and David about their diets, exercise and when they can get back to their lives. Living donors recover quickly. David will be back to good health in about four to six weeks where he can start lifting things and exercising. John should be able to get back to work and his life in just a few weeks. It’s an exciting team effort.” To learn more about living kidney donation, visit the Piedmont Transplant Institute.

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