What to Know About Stevie Wonder’s Living Donor Kidney Transplant

Stevie Wonder performs on stage.
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Setting the record straight, Stevie Wonder announced a health setback at a recent London concert. He stated that he would be taking a short pause from music to undergo a kidney transplant in September. While not revealing the reason or any more details about his specific condition, he reassured fans by saying, “I have a donor and it’s all good.”

In recent months, several other stars have come forward about receiving a kidney transplant through living donation, including Sarah Hyland and Selena Gomez.

This might not be surprising when understanding the statistics. According to the National Kidney Foundation , Every 14 minutes someone is added to the kidney transplant list in the U.S. with over 3,000 new patients added each month.

What Leads to a Kidney Transplant

Dr. Bobby Nibhanupudy , Medical Director of Abdominal Transplant at the AdventHealth Transplant Institute, explains that you can think of your kidney as a filter (like a coffee filter). The coffee filter lets water and liquid components that make up coffee through, but it stops the particles (coffee grinds).

Your kidneys function in a similar way. They filter out blood, byproducts of your metabolism and excess waste that your body sends out as urine. When the filtration of your kidneys is working properly, your kidneys hold on to the things your body needs (like proteins) and don’t let them pass through to be excreted.

The kidneys can become damaged leading to kidney disease. Chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and auto immune diseases can increase one’s risk of kidney disease. Other times genetics can play a role or kidney disease can occur without any specific risk factor.

But regardless of the cause, kidney disease often leads to the same life-saving treatment: a kidney transplant. And for this, the first step is finding a donor match.

Finding a Kidney Donor Through Living Donation

Dr. Bobby explains how the donor and transplant process work in harmony to provide a gift of life for many of his patients. He and his transplant team perform about 170 kidney transplants a year with a median wait time for a kidney transplant that’s less than half the national average.

More Options Than Ever for Kidney Transplant Recipients

“When kidney transplantation started 50 years ago, the thought was that the donated kidney had to be an exact genetic match from a blood relative,” reflects Dr. Bobby.

But today, with living donor programs , the opportunities to find a donor match are significantly increased.

“A match through the living donor program is predominately selected by blood type, which means that the potential donor population is larger,” says Dr. Bobby.

This means that the living kidney donor could be a friend, distant family member, acquaintance or even a complete stranger, not just an immediate family member.

Another option for patients is the national Kidney Paired Donation (KPD) program, in which AdventHealth participates.

“If a living donor doesn’t have a compatible blood type with their intended recipient, the donor can consider being entered into the national paired exchange, where they may be a match for someone else,” says Dr. Bobby.

Living Donation is Safe for the Donor

“When a person comes forward as potential living kidney donor, the process is carefully designed to be safe and successful for both the donor and recipient,” says Dr. Bobby.

This means that the living donor and recipient have separate treatment teams, including a surgeon, nephrologist, social worker and living donor advocate.

If a person expresses interest in becoming a living donor, they can expect some blood tests to make sure they are compatible with the recipient. They will also experience some other tests to check their overall health and kidney function.

“Living donors are also counseled to make sure they understand the process and their long-term health outcomes, as well as to ensure that they are donating their kidney for the right reasons,” advises Dr. Bobby.

Dr. Bobby says that healthy living donors can expect to live a perfectly normal life after donating a kidney, with a fairly short recovery time.

“The living donor is usually in the hospital for two days after their surgery. At AdventHealth, we are one of the few institutions that perform a single incision laparoscopic kidney removal procedure. We make a small incision through the belly button, and once surgery is over the incision shrinks to about two centimeters above and below the belly button,” shares Dr. Bobby.

Recovery time for donors is about two weeks total, with the vast majority going back to work and their normal life by that time.

Kidney Recipients Gain a New Life, Immediately

For someone who was once very sick, a kidney transplant recipient can feel the immediate improvement in health and quality of life after the transplant surgery.

“95 percent of transplanted kidneys from the living donor work right away when placed in the recipient,” says Dr. Bobby.

“The recipient is usually in the hospital for about four days after their transplant where they are monitored closely and given instruction on their medications, which is very important for the success of the transplant. After that, they are closely monitored for about two months. Most patients are feeling great physically pretty quickly after their surgery.”

One unique offering of the AdventHealth Transplant Institute is the Bartch Transplant House, a residence that can provide traveling transplant recipients and their caregivers, a home away from home while undergoing a transplant procedure and throughout the patients’ initial healing process.

And the support for transplant recipients at AdventHealth doesn’t stop there.

“After their transplant, patients continue to stay connected to us throughout the rest of their lives. That’s one of the reasons that I chose to be a transplant surgeon; once patients get their kidney they feel as close to normal as you can get, and it’s amazing when you see them happy, healthy and enjoying life — it’s very gratifying.”

Learn more about the AdventHealth Transplant Institute and how you can become a living donor today.

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