For most, the image of someone needing a kidney transplant is not an NFL star athlete. But in the case of Armonty Bryant, getting a kidney transplant has become the most important play of his life.
Bryant recently went public with his diagnosis of focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, more commonly known as FSGS, which led to renal (kidney) failure. Because of his declining health, he had to leave the NFL while awaiting a kidney donor match. Facing a kidney transplant as a young person can be particularly challenging, as other celebrities such as Sarah Hyland and Selena Gomez have publicly experienced as well.
FSGS Can Affect Children and Young Adults
“FSGS is one of the more common diagnosis that can lead to kidney transplantation in children and young adults,” says Dr. Bobby Nibhanupudy, Medical Director of Abdominal Transplant at the AdventHealth Transplant Institute.
Dr. Bobby 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.
But with FSGS, the glomeruli (your kidney’s filters) are damaged. This causes proteins to leak through to the urine. Therefore, blood protein levels drop. This can cause infection, swelling, inability to heal and even further damage to and dysfunction of the kidneys because of the back-up of proteins.
FSGS Affects Everyone Differently
Dr. Bobby says that FSGS is often different in every patient, which is why it’s a challenging disease to understand.
“In the early stages of FSGS or in less aggressive forms, we might find out about it because we detect protein in the urine through a routine lab test. Other forms of FSGS are so aggressive that they progress to dialysis and the need for a kidney transplant quickly.”
The Cause of FSGS is Not Always Known
We’re not always aware of the cause; sometimes it is genetic (especially in younger patients) and other times it’s thought to be autoimmune or due to other factors that may have damaged the kidneys like an infection, medication or something else.”
But focusing on the cause can be inconsequential when faced with the treatment that is often required: a kidney transplant. And for this, the first step is finding a donor match.
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.
There are 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 for people like Bryant are significantly elevated.
“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 altruistic 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 ensure that they are a match for the recipient. They will also experience some other tests to make sure they are in good health and that their kidneys are functioning normally.
“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, the kidney transplant recipient can feel the immediate gift of life after the transplant surgery.
“95 percent of transplanted kidneys from the living donor work right 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.