WASHINGTON– While COVID-19 continues to dominant the United States healthcare system, nearly 100,000 Americans are still on a waitlist for a kidney transplant and each day 12 patients die waiting for a kidney. National Kidney Foundation (NKF) Health Policy Director Miriam Godwin knows these statistics all too well and made the altruistic decision to take action and help others by becoming a living donor during National Donate Life Month in April. Like all incredibly selfless living donors, Godwin made a conscious choice to help others, but please don’t call her a hero.
“It’s difficult to live with the knowledge that some of the most vulnerable people in our society such as the elderly, communities of color, and those with limited financial means are waiting for kidney transplants, especially when kidney patients have been at such exceptionally high risk from COVID-19,” said Miriam Godwin, NKF Health Policy Director and a kidney transplant living donor. “It’s my job to make kidney transplants more accessible, but the tools to create system-level change are limited and take time. No one should be denied the opportunity for kidney health because of the circumstances of their birth. I became a living donor because I knew I could help one person right now, so I did. It was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made.”
Health inequities in the U.S. are well-documented for Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian American, or Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander people, who are all at increased risk for developing kidney disease. Black or African American people comprise 13% of the U.S. population yet represent 35% of those on dialysis for kidney failure. Hispanic or Latino people are 1.5 times more likely than non-Hispanic or non-Latino people to have kidney failure. Additional risk factors for kidney disease include diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and family history.
“We consistently say the ability to save a life through living organ donation is within all of us, yet we’re uncertain if people hear our message. To have Miriam – someone who has supported the transplant community throughout her career with her work at NKF – choose to make this life saving gift is truly inspiring,” said Matthew Cooper, MD, Director, Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Program, MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute and a member of NKF Board of Directors. “As the region’s leading transplant program, we are honored that Miriam purposely chose MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute on her journey to provide this gift of life.
Approximately 785,000 Americans have irreversible kidney failure and need dialysis or a kidney transplant to survive. About 555,000 of these patients receive dialysis to replace kidney function, 230,000 live with a transplant. Depending on where a patient lives, the average wait time for a kidney transplant can be upwards of three to seven years. Living donations were responsible for a total of 5,726 transplants in 2020. Living organ donation not only saves lives, but it saves money too. Each year, Medicare spends approximately $89,000 per dialysis patient and less than half, $35,000, for a transplant.
“Kidney disease is a public health crisis estimated to affect 37 million adults in the United States, yet 90% don’t even know they have it,” said Kevin Longino, CEO of the National Kidney Foundation and a kidney transplant recipient. “Miriam doesn’t want to be considered special and just wants living donation to be more commonplace, but what she did is incredibly special. The demand for kidney transplantation is so great that we are asking all adults in the U. S. to be more like Miriam and consider becoming a living donor.”
Miriam’s generous gift facilitated two transplants through a program called Paired Kidney Exchange. If a kidney patient and potential living donor don’t have compatible blood types, the donor may consider donating through this program and here’s how it works. If the recipient from one pair is compatible with the donor from the other pair, and vice versa– the transplant center may arrange for a "swap"–for two simultaneous transplants to take place. This allows two transplant candidates to receive organs and two donors to give organs although the original recipient/donor pairs were unable to do so with each other. This has been extended to allow chains of donors with multiple linked donor and recipient pairs, often facilitated by a good Samaritan donor, as Miriam did. These donations can take place within a single center or across the U.S., allowing these generous gifts to help many more patients in need.
Kidney Disease Facts
In the United States, 37 million adults are estimated to have chronic kidney disease—and approximately 90 percent don’t know they have it. 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. are at risk for chronic kidney disease. Risk factors for kidney disease include: diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and family history. People of Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian American, or Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander descent are at increased risk for developing the disease. Blacks or African Americans are almost 4 times more likely than White Americans to have kidney failure. Hispanics are 1.3 times more likely than non-Hispanics to have kidney failure.
About MedStar Georgetown University Hospital
MedStar Georgetown University Hospital is a not-for-profit, acute-care teaching and research hospital licensed for 609 beds located in Northwest Washington, D.C. Founded in the Jesuit principle of cura personalis, caring for the whole person, MedStar Georgetown is committed to offering a variety of innovative diagnostic and treatment options in a trusting and compassionate environment. MedStar Georgetown’s centers of excellence include neurosciences, transplant, cancer, and gastroenterology. Along with Magnet® nurses, internationally recognized physicians, advanced research and cutting-edge technologies, MedStar Georgetown’s healthcare professionals have a reputation for medical excellence and leadership. The MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute is a top 10 highest volume transplant center in the nation for all organs (excluding thoracic); the regions’ only 5-tier liver transplant program for 1-year organ survival; is among the top 10 highest volume centers for kidney transplants and the second largest paired kidney exchange program (through the National Kidney Registry) in the country; is among the top 3 programs by volume for pancreas and pediatric liver transplants; and, is among the top 2 intestinal transplant programs by volume in the country.
About National Kidney Foundation Living Organ Donation Resources
THE BIG ASK: THE BIG GIVE platform, which provides nationwide outreach, is designed to increase kidney transplantation through training and tools that help patients and families find a living donor. It includes direct patient and caregiver support through our toll-free help line 855-NKF-CARES, peer mentoring from a fellow kidney patient or a living donor, online communities, an advocacy campaign to remove barriers to donation, and a multi-media public awareness campaign. All resources are free and designed to teach kidney patients, or their advocates, how to make a “big ask” to their friends, loved ones, or community to consider making a “big give,” a living organ donation. www.kidney.org/livingdonation.
About the National Kidney Foundation
The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) is the largest, most comprehensive, and longstanding patient-centric organization dedicated to the awareness, prevention, and treatment of kidney disease in the U.S. For more information about NKF, visit www.kidney.org.