Son Donates Kidney for Dad on His Own Busy Schedule, Thanks to New Program

In Season of Giving, Family is Thankful for the Gift of Life

(Washington, D.C.) A Virginia father has received a kidney transplant thanks to his son’s organ donation five months earlier and a program that is reducing another barrier to living donation, time.

In March 2018, 48 year-old Ivan Jones was surprised to be diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure. He needed a transplant. 

“I knew right away that I wanted to donate a kidney to my dad,” says Amir Jones, 20.

But father and son’s blood types were incompatible. If Amir wanted to donate to his dad, the next option was to participate in the paired kidney exchange program so Ivan could be matched with a compatible living donor.  The schedule of testing and the intricate logistics of a paired kidney exchange made the date of his father’s transplant unpredictable.  Adding to the time pressure, the younger Jones had already been admitted to a prestigious research program at Princeton University which started in June.  As a senior studying Global Affairs at George Mason University, this was an important chance for Amir to learn from experts in his field. And graduation was scheduled for December 2018.

“In March he was already set to go to Princeton,” says Ivan Jones. “As his father, I didn’t want to hold him back and I didn’t want him to miss this important opportunity.  I know he worked hard to get accepted to the program.  But knowing my son, I knew he was going to figure something out so he could do both things.  It’s just who he is.”

Fortunately for father and son, they were able to participate in the Advanced Donation Program through the National Kidney Registry which would allow Amir Jones to do both. Amir could donate a kidney on his father’s behalf by scheduling his surgery at his own convenience. His father could then receive a voucher for a living organ in the future.

“Because living donation is the best option for recipients, transplant programs are trying to use this option in every possible way,” says Seyed Ghasemian, MD, transplant surgeon and director of Transplant Urology at the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute. “This NKR program is making it possible for Amir to continue his education and continue with his plans, and for his father to receive a kidney from a living donor.  We expect nothing but long term success for both of them.”

“As one of the largest paired kidney exchange  programs in the country, we’re very fortunate to have a dedicated living donor team to make these types of innovative donations and transplant opportunities happen for our patients,” says Matthew Cooper, MD, director of Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation at the MGTI.”

In late May 2018, Amir had surgery to donate his kidney to someone in the Washington, D.C. area.

Ivan Jones spent the summer getting worked up for his transplant.  Then in October, a living donor match in San Diego was offered to Ivan through the NKR. On November 14, about five and a half months after Amir’s donation, Ivan Jones had his kidney transplant.

Dr. Ghasemian performed both Amir’s kidney donation as well as his dad’s kidney transplant.

“At first I was frustrated that I couldn’t be a direct donor to my dad,” says Amir.  “But after realizing that I could help not only him, but someone else, was a real moment of gratitude for me.  Two weeks after my surgery, I was packing up my car and driving off to New Jersey for my program,” says Amir. “I’m just so grateful for this opportunity that allowed me to continue with my plans and for my dad to receive a kidney from a living donor.”

“It’s been overwhelming and amazing at the same time,” says Amir’s mother Pinky Jones.  “With Amir being 20, I realized he wasn’t asking me, he was telling me he was going to do this. And he was saving his dad’s life so there wasn’t much I could protest about that.”

“It’s been amazing that at there’s a program like this,” says Ivan.  “I just had no idea.  This is such a blessing. Amir is really big into helping others around the world. And now he’s helped not only me, but someone else in need.”  

As part of his curriculum at George Mason, Amir has traveled around the world to study other cultures. He is vice president of George Mason’s chapter of UNICEF and he works with a mentoring program that helps struggling high school students in Fairfax County.

Amir will be followed closely by physicians at the MGTI for a mandatory period of two years. After that Dr. Ghasemian recommends he visit his primary care provider for regular checkups.

“Very few transplant centers in the world have the resources or the experience with logistics and organization to be able to offer this to their potential donors and patients,” says Dr. Cooper.  “This shows MGTI’s high level of investment and belief in paired kidney exchange as one critical way to offer creative transplant options. We also have significant living donor benefits not offered at most centers to support and protect donors who give the gift of life.”

After graduation in December 2018, Amir plans to apply to law school with this experience behind him.

“I’m just so thankful for all that my dad, my family and I have been able to be part of this,” says Amir. 

More than 100,000 people are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant in the United States.

Media Contact

Marianne Worley
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Office: 703-558-1287
Pager: 202-405-2824
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Brendan McNamara 
Media Relations Specialist
Office: 703-558-1593
[email protected]

New Treatments for Hepatitis-C Open New Possibilities for People Waiting for Kidney Transplant

Elliott Stevens

(Washington, D.C) Elliott Stevens of Maryland has a new kidney and is cured of hepatitis C after a transplant and treatment at the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute that includes the use of newly approved anti-viral medications.

Stevens, 60 was diagnosed with end-stage kidney disease in 2015.  He needed a transplant as soon as possible.  But because of his blood type and a national waiting list of nearly 100,000 patients, he was told his wait could be seven to eight years. In addition to having kidney disease, Stevens contracted hepatitis C after a blood transfusion he received as a child.

“I had to go on dialysis right away.  I know it saved my life but dialysis really tore down my body,” recalls Stevens, recently retired after 28 years at FedEx.  “I was hooked to a machine for four hours a day, three days a week and afterwards all I could do was crawl back into bed to rest.  I missed my wife and two daughters and could no longer travel.”

But in March of 2017 Stevens got a call from MedStar Georgetown.  A kidney was available. The catch was that the kidney was from a hepatitis C – positive donor.

“For more than a decade we have been using kidneys from hepatitis C-positive donors for some recipients already infected with the virus,” says MGTI Transplant Nephrologist Alexander Gilbert, M.D. “We can safely give hepatitis C-positive kidneys to patients who already have hepatitis C because in that case there is minimal risk of transmitting the disease since the patient has already been exposed.  Once we get the kidney into the recipient, we can then go back and treat the recipient and cure the hepatitis C. The newest advance in this process is better, more effective treatments for hepatitis C.”

And that’s just what happened in the case of Elliott Stevens.

“I have some family members who have high blood pressure and other health problems that mean they couldn’t be a living donor for me,” says Stevens. “I was weighing that seven year waiting list in front of me and being on dialysis and I looked at my wife and daughters and said, ‘yes I want to take a chance on this and spend more time with them,’” says Stevens.  “I didn’t want to wait seven years getting to a critical state medically where I might not be able to survive a kidney transplant.”

“This is exciting because in Mr. Stevens’ case we were able to shorten his wait time from seven or eight years, to barely 400 days, and then cure him of his hepatitis C,” says Matthew Cooper, M.D., director of Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation at the MGTI.

Estel Swayne

Estel Swayne, 60 of Maryland had a similar experience.  After living with diabetes since 1997 she found out in 2015 that she had contracted hepatitis C.

“While I was waiting for a kidney transplant, I was on dialysis,” recalls Swayne.  “I was so absolutely exhausted all the time.  I just went to dialysis and all I wanted was my bed.”

“We know that dialysis is not a comfortable or easy way to live. Studies show that patients live significantly longer with a kidney transplant versus dialysis,” says Dr. Cooper.

After a few months on the list for a kidney at MedStar Georgetown, Swayne received a kidney from a deceased donor who was hepatitis C-positive.  

“I already had hepatitis C, so it wasn’t going to make a difference to me,” says Swayne.  “It’s not like they could give me something I didn’t already have.  I knew I couldn’t stay on dialysis too long or other things should start happening to me and I might not be a transplant candidate.”

“What’s made this possible is the advent of new anti-viral medications approved in 2015 that we expect to permanently cure a patient of their hepatitis C more than 95% of the time, with few side effects and only a short course of treatment, about 12 weeks,” says Dr. Gilbert.  “The old hepatitis C medications only worked 60% of the time, came with serious side effects and had to be taken for six months or longer.”

“The last time I came for my checkup, there was no sign of hepatitis in my body,” says Stevens.  “I consider this a win-win.  I no longer have kidney disease and I am cured of hepatitis C.  I am so grateful and I feel wonderful. I am back to taking walks with my wife, spending more time with my daughters and I’m back to volunteering in my church.  I could not be happier.”

After her transplant in September 2016 and a course of the new hepatitis C medication, Swayne’s blood work confirmed that she is free of the hepatitis C virus.

“I feel great. I actually have the energy to do things,” says Swayne.  “I like to fish and hike and spend hours and hours in my garden.  I hadn’t been able to do these things in quite some time. I go all over the place now.”

Mr. Stevens with his family.
Mr. Stevens with his family.

“Our next step is to transplant hepatitis C-infected kidneys into carefully selected patients who need a kidney but do not have hepatitis C and then treat them for hepatitis C after transplant,” says Matthew Cooper, MD, “Our goal is to get them off the long waiting list and return them to their lives.”

The MGTI plans to increase the availability of kidneys from hepatitis C-positive donors through future studies.  

A recent study of 20 patients without hepatitis C, who received hepatitis C-positive kidneys, found that all were free of the disease after transplant and treatment. 

“This could be a game changer,” says Dr. Gilbert. “This wouldn’t be for everyone but could be ideal for patients who don’t do well on dialysis and who face longer wait times.  Their only choice for a new kidney might be to receive a kidney from a hepatitis C-positive donor, then get treatment for hepatitis C after transplant.”  

“I hope I can encourage others with my successful outcome along the way,” says Stevens.  “I just feel so grateful to my donor and to my Georgetown transplant team, that I hope I can give back what someone has given me, which is a second chance at life.”

Media Contact

Marianne Worley
Director of Media Relations
Office: 703-558-1287
Pager: 202-405-2824
[email protected]

Brendan McNamara 
Media Relations Specialist
Office: 703-558-1593
[email protected]

Kidney Transplant Recipient Finds Her Donor Because of Mutual Love for Rescuing Dogs

Weetall with two German Shepherds (Washington, D.C.)  A mutual passion for rescuing animals has led to a successful living kidney donation between two dog lovers from Maryland.

Gary Simmont, 64 of Pasadena met 49 year old Laurel Weetall of Germantown through a German Shepherd rescue group a few years ago.   Simmont has three German Shepherds and has fostered several, sometimes nursing them through their final weeks of life. Weetall has volunteered as a photographer at numerous pet adoption events, capturing the faces of shelter animals looking for permanent homes.

“I love animals and photographing them is something that helps them get seen and potentially rescued into a forever home,” says Weetall. “I will do whatever I can to help an animal.”

Simmon and Weetall holding donor and recipient bansLuckily for Weetall, Simmont feels the same way about people.

When Weetall shared publicly with her Facebook friends that she needed a kidney due to a painful condition called PKD or polycystic kidney disease, Simmont came forward.

“I had no idea you could donate a kidney,” says Simmont who rehabilitates cars at his collision repair center.  “I saw what she was going through and I wanted to help. I found out that the risks are minimal to me and the benefits to her were so huge.  It was not a tough decision.”

Weetall was diagnosed with PKD in her mid-thirties.  “I had been living with extreme pain for 13 years,” she recalls.  “I was always so sick; I know people could see it in my eyes.”

Simmont had donated platelets dozens of times and was listed as an organ donor on his Maryland driver’s license but had not previously considered living organ donation.

On March 13, 2018 Matthew Cooper, MD, medical director of the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute’s (MGTI) Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation program, worked with Transplant Surgeon Seyed Reza Ghasemian to remove both of Weetall’s diseased kidneys.

“Due to the complexity of a planned removal of both enlarged and painful kidneys and live donor kidney transplant, Laurel chose MGTI as one of the few centers in the United States to offer this combined procedure,” says Dr. Cooper.  “The cooperative expertise of myself and Dr. Ghasemian helped us work together to safely and successfully complete this operation.”

In an operating room right next door, Jennifer Verbesey, MD, director of the Institute’s Living Kidney Donor Transplant Program, was working to remove Simmont’s kidney. It was then carried into Weetall’s operating room where Dr. Cooper finished the transplant.

Simmont and Weetall holding a shirt that says "i run on spare parts - kidney transplant"

“With more than 90-thousand people on the waiting list for a kidney in the U.S. today, we explain to our patients that receiving a kidney from a living donor is really the best option for them,” says Dr. Cooper.  “Organs from living donors last longer, the transplant can usually be done sooner and can be scheduled at their convenience, rather than waiting for an organ from a deceased donor. In Laurel’s case this genetic disorder meant that she would eventually need a new kidney. “

“Our kidney donors are amazing people for giving of themselves in this way,” says Dr Verbesey. We encourage people who need an organ to feel empowered to discuss what they’re going through with their family members and friends who might just be willing to come forward. Organ recipients can find their donors in so many different ways.  I think this shows the level of altruism among people who just have that spirit of wanting to help when people or animals need them.”Donor, Simmont with his white shepherd

“Saying ‘thank you’ to Gary hardly seems like enough,” says Weetall.  “We both have a strong passion for saving animals and I think he just has rescue in his heart. He rescued me. He gave me the gift of life.”

When Simmont saw Weetall two months after the transplant he couldn’t believe her transformation.

“To see her was really a moving thing. She had good color in her face; she just looked different,” says Simmont. “She didn’t look tired or drawn out and she told me, ‘I’m not in constant pain, thanks to you.’ “

As a thank you, Weetall made Simmont a photo book of all his dogs including Sam, his prized white shepherd.

“It was an incredible journey says Simmont. “ I didn’t want to focus on the magnitude of the gift I gave her.  My inconvenience was so minimal compared to the new life she has in front of her.”

Media Contact

Marianne Worley
Director of Media Relations
Office: 703-558-1287
Pager: 202-405-2824
[email protected]

Brendan McNamara 
Media Relations Specialist
Office: 703-558-1593
[email protected]

MedStar Georgetown’s Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Program Celebrates its 100th Transplant

(Washington, D.C.)  In April 2017 MedStar Georgetown’s Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant (BMT) Program celebrated an exciting milestone by performing its 100th transplant.

Stem cell transplantation is the only curative therapy for a number of malignant and non-malignant diseases of the blood and bone marrow. Autologous transplants use a patient’s own bone marrow or stem cells while allogeneic transplants use a donor’s bone marrow or stem cells.

June Batcheller from Arlington, VA was first diagnosed in June 2016 with solitary bone plasmacytoma in one of her ribs. After 33 rounds of radiation she thought she was on track for recovery. However, in December 2016 she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

After being referred to the BMT Program at MedStar Georgetown, Batcheller received two rounds of chemotherapy.  After that physicians determined she was eligible for a bone marrow stem cell transplant.

On April 26, 2017, Batcheller became the program’s 100th stem cell transplant recipient. 

“This is the closest step we’ve been to the finish line,” said Batcheller after receiving the transplant. “I feel relieved in some ways now.”

Dr. Pashna Munshi performed the 100th transplant and says the highly specialized team of physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals, including pre-transplant coordinators, the Apheresis team, nurses, dietitians, social workers and other support staff provide expert care to the patients and also their families.

“People in the D.C. area really do have the ability to receive state of the art care from our program since we are the only program of its kind in this area. We pride ourselves on supporting the patient and the family because that is MedStar Georgetown’s mission of cura personalis – caring for the whole person. It is important to us that our patients feel supported every step of the way,” said Dr. Munshi.

The Hospital’s BMT program is the only comprehensive BMT center within Washington, D.C. and southern Maryland with accreditation from the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT) for adult, autologous procedures.

The BMT Program is a joint effort with specialists from the John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center, and a key component of the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“One hundred completed procedures demonstrates that our program has achieved a level of maturity and experience that means top-level, sophisticated care for our cancer patients,” says Scott Rowley, MD, chief of the BMT program at MedStar Georgetown as well as a member of the John Theurer Cancer Center’s Blood and Marrow Stem Cell Transplantation Division.

During the BMT Program’s first year in 2013, the team performed four autologous transplants. In just a short amount of time the program has continued to grow and reach this milestone of 100 total autologous and allogeneic transplants.

After a successful 30-year career in financial services, mostly recently serving as the chief compliance officer for a major online brokerage, Batcheller enjoys spending time with her husband, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and her family, all avid fans of the Washington Capitals. During her stay at MedStar Georgetown, the Washington Capital’s mascot Slapshot even stopped by to check on her recovery.

 “Our program is continuing to grow and in 2017 we have performed 20 autologous transplants. We are looking forward to submitting our FACT accreditation for allogeneic transplants this summer and continuing to be a leader in the region,” said Dr. Munshi.

Supporting this growth and the emphasis on patient care is the newly renovated Emily and Neil Kishter Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Clinic that officially opened in August 2016. The space features upgraded exam rooms, provider work areas, four infusion bays and a waiting room. MedStar Georgetown is also home to the largest Blood and Marrow Collection Program (BMCP) collection site for the National Marrow Donor program.  

Marianne Worley
Director of Media Relations
Office: 703-558-1287
Pager: 202-405-2824
[email protected]

New Cures for Hepatitis C Mean Avoiding Liver Transplant

A Daily Pill Cures Hepatitis C in Months

“It’s a hidden disease. A lot of people, me included, don't know they have hepatitis C until they have a blood test,” says Duncan MacInnes, during a recent visit to the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute.

MacInnes, 69, was infected with hepatitis C while working overseas, when doctors used unclean needles to give injections in the 1970’s. He didn’t know about his condition until the 1990’s. Hepatitis C damaged his liver by causing extreme scarring, called cirrhosis, a late stage of fibrosis that is now reversible with oral medications.

After five rounds of Interferon, which involves a year of injections three times each week and many side effects, doctors recently used new pills to treat MacInnes’s hepatitis C. Simple oral drugs and the liver’s ability to regenerate and heal itself cured his hepatitis C and helped him avoid a liver transplant.

“When a patient is cured of hepatitis C, the patient they may be able to avoid or delay liver transplant,” says Rohit Satoskar, MD and medical director of the Liver Screening Program at Liver Transplantation the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute. “More than 95 percent of patients with chronic hepatitis C can now be cured with well-tolerated oral medications today.”

About 3.5 million people live with hepatitis C in the United States, according to The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Similar to MacInnes’s experience, many people are living with hepatitis C and don’t know it or know that there is a cure. MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute offers liver screening tests and oral treatments, including a pill that can cure hepatitis C with no side effects in fewer than six months.

“Traditionally, hepatitis C has been a leading cause for liver transplant and liver cancer. Liver transplants for hepatitis C-related disease are falling, and it’s likely happening because we are able to treat more people and prevent them from getting to that point,” says Dr. Satoskar.

Testing for Hepatitis C

A simple blood test shows doctors if a person has hepatitis C. The MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute provides free liver screening tests to help with early diagnosis of hepatitis C and other conditions, which prevents the progression to serious liver diseases, like liver cancer, and the eventual need for transplant. With two small tubes of blood, providers screen for hepatitis C and receive test results within seven days.

“The test is very simple, and now that there’s a cure, there really is no reason not to get tested,” says Maccines.

Curing Hepatitis C

“What we’ve seen with the progress against hepatitis C is truly revolutionary.  Since the 1980’s we’ve gone from not knowing about the virus, to now being able to cure it,” says Dr. Satoskar.

Physicians use the following oral medications from a range of 8 to 24 weeks to cure hepatitis C today:

  • Harvoni
  • Epclusa
  • Zepatier
  • Viekira
  • Daklinza and Sovaldi

“New Hepatitis C treatments are simple. Patients are now able to use pills that are side effect-free and for short durations of time to treat this disease. It’s just so fantastically different compared to what it was back during out Interferon days in the 1990’s,” says Andrea Keller, physician assistant with the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute who has followed MacInnes’s care for several years. “Mr. MacInnes is a very sweet man. His resilience and drive to treat this disease has been like no one else I’ve seen. He’s really forthcoming with feedback and always ready to try the next treatment in hope of a cure. Finally, we had success.”

A Hidden and ‘Most Common’ Disease

Hepatitis C is a viral infection which causes inflammation of the liver. The disease has short-term and long-term effects, but most people will not experience symptoms until problems arise due to liver damage.

A recent CDC report shows that cases of hepatitis C nearly tripled from 2010-2015. With an outstanding undiagnosed population, doctors say baby boomers or those a part of the current opioid epidemic should especially get tested for hepatitis C.

For more information about the liver screening program at MedStar Georgetown, please contact Chloe Shreve, liver program coordinator, at [email protected] and 703-639-0616.

Marianne Worley
Director of Media Relations
Office: 703-558-1287
Pager: 202-405-2824
[email protected]

A Simple, Non-Surgical Liver Test Provides Accurate Information About Liver Health in Minutes

FibroScan Better Assesses Liver Health 

 

Washington, D.C., May 16, 2017  - “That’s it? That was quick!”says Marc Calanog, 73, as he lay on the exam table after his first FibroScan test, at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

With his left hand stretched above his head, and his shirt pulled up to his chest, Calanog’s Fibroscan took about five minutes, and was as easy as an ultrasound of his abdomen. 

In his case, physicians want to know if Calanog’s hepatitis B has caused any damage to his liver. Fibroscan is used to check for scarring on the liver as well as signs of fatty liver disease, which can lead to the need for a liver transplant.

In the past, doctors required a liver biopsy, an invasive procedure that sometimes requires moderate sedation, to understand the staging of a liver disease and identify the amount of fat on the liver. The side-effects of a liver biopsy include soreness of the area biopsied and possible bleeding and infection.

“One of the most important things for physicians to determine is if the patient is on the road to extreme scarring in the liver called cirrhosis and potentially liver cancer,” said Rohit Satoskar, MD and director of the Liver Screening Program at the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute. “Fibroscan is a way that we can estimate how much scarring is in the liver without doing the traditional, invasive liver biopsy.”

FibroScan uses Vibration-Controlled Transient Elastography to accurately measure tissue stiffness, an indication of liver damage. This non-invasive technique helps doctors identify liver damage from a variety of conditions, including hepatitis C, hepatitis B, fatty liver disease and fibrosis.

Calanog visits MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute for continual monitoring of his hepatitis B and other conditions. Although there is no cure available for Calanog’s hepatitis B, his Fibroscan results help his doctors choose the best direction for his care.

“I’m convinced that, with this FibroScan information, my doctor will be more informed about my liver and know how to better guide my treatment,” says Calanog.

Early diagnosis of liver conditions prevents the progression of serious liver diseases and the eventual need for a liver transplant.

“The problem with most liver diseases is that they are silent until you get very advanced disease,” said Dr. Satoskar, “so it’s very important to get screened.”

For more information about the liver screening program at MedStar Georgetown, please contact Chloe Shreve, liver program coordinator, at [email protected] and 703-698-9254.

Marianne Worley
Director of Media Relations
Office: 703-558-1287
Pager: 202-405-2824
[email protected]

Army Buddies Reunite after 16 Years when One Donates Kidney to the Other at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital

Kai Johns and his wife Heather Sheeley-Johns
Kai Johns and his wife Heather Sheeley-Johns

(Washington, D.C.) - Kai Johns, 45, of Ashburn Virginia and his wife Heather Sheeley-Johns sat in a hospital emergency room back in November 2016 getting unexpected news. The stubborn “flu-like” symptoms Johns had been experiencing were the pre-cursor to the discovery that his kidneys were functioning at just six percent.

Johns was in kidney failure and needed a transplant. Fast.

With four generations of polycystic kidney disease before him, Johns would be the first in his family to need actually require a new kidney.

While Johns immediately started dialysis treatments three times a week, Sheeley-Johns took to Facebook to inform their friends of her husband’s dire condition and to ask if anyone would be willing to donate a kidney.

Within 24 hours, one of his brothers in arms stepped up to be tested at the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

“We were paratroopers in the Army together and that brotherhood runs deep,” says Sgt. First Class Rob Harmon, 42, a telecommunications operations chief at the 3rd Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade at Fort Stewart, Georgia. Harmon did a tour in Iraq in 2002. “I’m willing and able and it’s no different than combat. He’d do it for me.”

Harmon and Johns met in the U.S. Army 22 years ago when they were stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They worked in competing platoons “jumping out of airplanes” as part of the Army’s signal telecommunications operations. Former Active and Former Reservist Johns left the Army in 2014. He has worked as an engineer for Sprint for the past 19 years.

The two had kept in touch on Facebook but hadn’t seen each other in 16 years.

“Rob is completely selfless,” says Johns. “It’s a huge honor to have him do this for me; to even consider donating a kidney to me. He has a wife and two children. This is a huge thing.”

Within weeks the testing was complete and Harmon was a match.

Kai Johns and Sgt. First Class Rob Harmon
Sgt. First Class Rob Harmon (left) and Kai Johns (right)

Early the morning of April 27, 2017 MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute surgeon Seyed Ghasemian took Harmon into surgery where he laparoscopically removed his healthy kidney in a three-hour operation.

Harmon’s kidney was then carried to an operating room next door, where Johns was already prepped and ready to receive it.

Director of MedStar Georgetown’s Living Kidney Donor program, surgeon Jennifer Verbesey operated on Johns.

The following day, Harmon’s kidney was working well in its new home.

“I feel 100-percent better,” says Johns. “Just 24 hours later and everyone says I look completely different, better.”

“Both donor and recipient are doing extremely well,” says Dr. Verbesey. “In cases of living donation, donor safety is of utmost importance. Before someone can become a living donor we give them an extensive and thorough workup. Mr. Johns was so lucky to receive such a healthy kidney from his very selfless Army buddy.”

“Something told me before I was even tested that I was going to be a match for Kai,” says Harmon. “I just knew.”

“Some of my patients in need of a kidney find it difficult to ask their friends and family about donating a kidney to them,” says Dr. Verbesey. “It’s not like borrowing a book that they’re going to return. I advise people to start with a conversation letting people know what’s going on in their lives and that they’re in need of a kidney.”

“I would say, don’t be afraid to ask,” says Johns. “In my case my wife took to Facebook and did it for me. But I knew it was my only option. My situation is proof that there’s still a lot of good in this world.”

Marianne Worley
Director of Media Relations
Office: 703-558-1287
Pager: 202-405-2824
[email protected]

Transplant Patient Starts off New Year with a Better Night’s Sleep and Gratitude for NPR Listeners after National Broadcast

Creasey being interviewedMedStar Georgetown kidney transplant recipient Constance Creasey learned about the kindness of strangers after a national radio broadcast featured her story, along with an interview with Dr. Matthew Cooper, MD, medical director of the Kidney Pancreas Transplant program at the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute.

NPR national medical correspondent Richard Harris compiled a story about Medicare coverage of anti-rejection drugs that expires after three years, but continues to pay for dialysis and even a new transplant. Dr. Cooper commented that this is a policy he believes needs to change.

To add patient perspective NPR interviewed Creasey, age 60 of Washington, D.C. who mentioned that sleeping on a bed is a luxury she can’t afford because she has to save money for her anti-rejection medications. When NPR’s Morning Edition  listeners heard the story on December 22, many wanted to donate and began to contact NPR and MGUH Media Relations to find out how.

A woman from Virginia bought Creasey a bed right after the holidays, while donated gift cards from all over the country provided her with sheets and blankets. Another woman from Illinois started a funding page for Creasey; some listeners donated to the MGTI's patient assistance fund that helps patients like Creasey in similar situations.  

“I was overwhelmed and in total disbelief,” said Creasey. “I didn’t feel like I deserved it.  I was just trying to bring awareness to this issue for other people like myself.” 

Creasey spent 11 years on dialysis after her kidney failed and received a transplant in 2015. Thankfully, the surgery was a success. However, to prevent rejection, Creasey will have to take medication for the rest of her life. She is becoming increasingly concerned about how she is going to pay for her medication after Medicare stops covering the costs in 2018. 

Creasey has been “truly grateful” for what people have given her since the story on NPR. She is enjoying her brand new bed, headboard and frame with sheets, a comforter and some curtains. She is happy to finally make her room a little more like home.  Creaseys says she can now turn her heat down because sleeping on the floor was cold.

“I’m starting off my new year with more faith in people. This experience has touched my heart and I can’t thank everyone enough, “Creasey said.

-Shannon McCarthy

Media Contact

Marianne Worley
Director of Media Relations
Office: 703-558-1287
Pager: 202-405-2824
[email protected]

MedStar Georgetown’s First Living Donor Kidney Recipient Gets Second Transplant – 40 Years Later

Maryland Woman Celebrates Four Decades of Transplant Progress for Donors and Recipients

Brenda and Dana before the surgery
Brenda and Dana before the surgery

(Washington, D.C.) Brenda Hudson’s transplanted kidney wasn’t supposed to function this long.  

At the age of 12 in the 1970’s, then Brenda Robinson was diagnosed with lupus that slowly and steadily destroyed her kidneys and caused multiple life threatening health problems. Her face swelled from the massive doses of steroids that kept her alive. She survived a diabetic coma that lasted most of a summer.  Brenda’s parents drove her from Upper Marlboro to Georgetown three times a week for exhausting dialysis treatments that were doing the work her kidneys no longer could.  When Brenda was about 17 her physicians began to talk about kidney transplant.  

“I just remember feeling so sick all the time,” said Brenda.  “Kidney transplant was pretty new back then but I wasn’t afraid of it at all if it was going to make me feel better. I said ‘sign me up.’ ”

Testing showed that her 20 year old sister Michelle Robinson Tucker was as close a match possible without being identical twins.  After careful preparation, on October 20, 1976 Brenda became the first person ever to receive a kidney transplant from a living donor at then Georgetown University Hospital.

“We expect a kidney from a living donor to last, on average, 15 to 18 years,” said Mathew Cooper, MD, director, Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation at the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute.   “Forty years is spectacular.”

But in recent years, Brenda’s diabetes started affecting her health. She needed heart surgery in March of 2015 and had to start dialysis a year and a half ago as her transplant began to fail.  Doctors told her she would need another kidney. The sooner, the better.

“I couldn’t imagine that I would get a second chance for a transplant,” said Brenda.  But her husband Dana Hudson turned out to be a compatible donor.  And in a surgery very different from the one she had 40 years ago, Brenda received a second kidney on June 28, 2016.  In a carefully choreographed set of surgeries, Seyed Ghasemian, MD, laparoscopically removed one of Dana Hudson’s kidneys; Dr. Cooper then transplanted the kidney into Brenda Hudson.

Brenda, Michelle and Dana’s experiences with kidney transplant read like a “then and now” chapter in a medical text book and speak to the history of kidney transplantation at Georgetown - a lesson in how vastly transplant medicine and surgery have improved in the years since Brenda had her first kidney transplant.

Brenda and her sister Michelle (first donor)
Brenda and her sister Michelle (first donor)

The method for Brenda’s transplant in 1976 involved a then standard two-stage process. The first step was the removal of her injured kidneys and her spleen requiring her to immediately begin dialysis treatments.  About a month later she received her sister’s kidney in a surgery that lasted several hours.

Since Brenda was Georgetown’s first patient to receive a kidney from a living donor, she remembers having her own isolated wing of the hospital and her own nurse.  She was carefully monitored in the hospital for a month.

“When my family came to visit me in the hospital after the transplant they had to dress in these big sterile gowns from head to toe and were so covered up that I couldn’t even recognize who was who,” Brenda recalled. The doctors and nurses were so afraid I was going to catch something to ruin my new kidney. And when I went home from the hospital I had to wear a mask in public for six months. “

“Clinicians were much more heavy handed back then with immunosuppression in those early days,” said Dr. Cooper.  “The drugs Brenda would have received were not as targeted as they are now.  Today our medications prevent rejection better and have fewer side effects. And our recipients usually go home in about four days.”

“The other nice thing is that today living donors are much more able to see the benefit of their donation.  In the old days they might have been taken aback at how uncomfortable they were following surgery,” said Dr. Cooper.

Brenda’s sister Michelle remembers what is was like to donate her kidney back in 1976.  She proudly shows off the large scar that stretches about 12 inches from the midline of her abdomen all the way under her right ribcage.

“I would do this all over again for my sister,” said Michelle.  “But it was a big surgery as I look back on it.  I was in the hospital with some complications for about a month and it took me almost a full year to feel back to normal.”

Dr. Cooper says the old way to remove a kidney from a living donor was to start an incision at the bottom of the rib cage and split the muscles sometimes requiring removing a lower rib to get to the organ, which was painful.  Patients were usually in the hospital for 10 days and confined to the home for three to four weeks.

Dr. Cooper and Dr. Ghasemian with Dana's kidney
Dr. Cooper and Dr. Ghasemian with Dana's kidney

Transplant surgeons needed only four 5mm-1cm incisions to remove Dana’s kidney laparoscopically.  He went home two days following surgery.

“I was happy to do this for my wife,” said Dana Hudson.  “I just couldn’t watch Brenda be so sick and so debilitated by dialysis.”

“It’s amazing what Dana has done for me. He’s a keeper,” Brenda laughs.  “And all these people who donate kidneys are truly special people.”

“Of our approximately 220 kidney transplant we perform each year, 25-30 percent of them come from living donors,” said Jennifer Verbesey, MD, Director of the Living Donor Kidney Transplant Program at the MGTI.  “Contrasting to a time when Brenda was the only patient on her wing of the hospital after her transplant in 1976, at the time of her surgery this time, our transplant teams performed six living donor transplants in 36 hours. Some of those happened as a result of MGTI’s Paired Kidney Exchange (PKE) Program in which willing, eligible yet incompatible donor and recipient pairs exchange donors thus allowing both recipients to experience the benefits of living donor transplantation. That’s quite a change in the approach to transplant in 40 years.”

“I’m so thankful for how good I feel all day long,” Brenda said about a week after her transplant.  “No more lethargy, nausea, cramping that I felt from dialysis and not have to deal with that anymore is just so unbelievable. And I feel positively wonderful.”

With the help of tutors, Brenda went on to graduate with her class in 1977 from Frederick Douglas High School in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.  She then completed a four year degree in food and nutrition at University of Maryland College Park.

After her first transplant Brenda’s physicians advised that she should never become pregnant.  Doctors couldn’t predict the stress that carrying a child to term would place on a kidney and what complications her anti-rejection medications would cause to her unborn baby.

“But I was a pioneer there too.  I guess I didn’t really listen because ten years after my transplant I gave birth to my miracle baby Bradley and I had him at Georgetown.  He’s now 30, big and strong and has always been just fine.”

When asked to compare her two transplant experiences that span 40 years, Brenda laughed. “This one was a lot easier in every way.  Mostly, I feel so much better getting this kidney from someone knowing that he didn’t have to go through what my sister went through 40 years ago. There really is no comparison. What hasn’t changed is the wonderful expertise and compassionate TLC I received from all the people at Georgetown, both then and now. ”

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MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute Participates in White House Organ Summit

MGTI Physicians Meet Other National Experts to Discuss Challenges and Solutions

WhiteHouseOrganSummit Audience shot(Washington, D.C.) Three physicians from the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute traveled to the White House today for the Obama Administration’s Organ Summit aimed at setting new strategies to increase access to organ transplants and shorten the organ waiting list. MGTI executive director Thomas Fishbein, MGTI director of Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation, Matthew Cooper and MGTI transplant surgeon Jason Hawksworth met with members of the Obama Administration’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Economic Council plus experts from transplant centers nationwide as well as patient advocacy groups, private companies and foundations to discuss the challenges and possible solutions to what the Administration calls an “organ crisis.”

“The numbers are staggering,” said Dr. Fishbein. “Today, more than 120-thousand people are on the list for a life-saving organ and by tonight 22 people will die waiting. We know that 95-percent of Americans support organ donation, but only half are registered as organ donors. We need to work with professionals not only in the medical community but with those in information technology, social media, government and private organizations to close this gap. As a large and busy transplant center here on the East Coast, I’m pleased that MedStar Georgetown was recognized to be part of this important discussion.”

In addition to increases in government funding and exciting new research, participants discussed the use of social media to reach out to more and younger people to express their wishes about becoming organ donors.

 

Media Contact

Marianne Worley

Director of Media Relations
Office: 703-558-1287
Pager: 202-405-2824
[email protected]

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Jason Hawksworth, MD; Thomas Fishbein, MD; Matthew Cooper, MD