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The Journal Gazette

  • Sherry Slater | The Journal Gazette Pinwheels were placed in the lawn outside Lutheran Hospital's main entrance on Wednesday, one for each Hoosier waiting for a kidney transplant.

  • Kizilisik

  • Pinwheels were placed in the lawn outside Lutheran Hospital's main entrance on Wednesday, one for each Hoosier waiting for a kidney transplant.  Sherry Slater

Thursday, April 25, 2019 1:00 am

Kidney need seen in Donate Life Month

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

As Indiana's only kidney transplant surgeon working outside Indianapolis, Dr. Tarik Kizilisik has performed up to three of the procedures in one day.

Other times, he'll wait two weeks between trips to Lutheran Hospital's operating room.

It's not for a lack of people needing kidneys. The local active waiting list is 94, with another 40 who are on vacation or for another reason have been designated temporarily inactive.

The challenge is finding enough donors. Usable kidneys can come from live or recently deceased donors. April is Donate Life Month.

Kizilisik joined Lutheran staff and volunteers with the Indiana Donor Network at the hospital Wednesday to distribute literature promoting organ donation. Staff members also placed one multi-colored pinwheel in the lawn at Lutheran Hospital's main entrance for each of the more than 1,300 Hoosiers awaiting organ transplants.

Lutheran Hospital's kidney transplant program is separate from its heart transplant program, which has been temporarily halted while hospital officials search for a replacement for their advanced heart failure cardiologist.

Certain concerns related to kidney donation are common. 

Live donors sometimes worry about future health complications or high medical bills following surgery, Kizilisik said.

They might not realize that the organ recipient's insurance pays all medical bills for the donor, and studies have found donors don't increase their risk of disease, he said.

A series of required medical tests ensure Kizilisik never operates on someone who is likely to suffer negative health consequences from donating a kidney.

“Our number one responsibility is to the donor, not the recipient,” he said, adding that all doctors take a pledge to do no harm to patients.

Roadblocks also can pop up after someone is killed in an accident.

Sometimes only one member of the patient's family will object to donating organs after death, while nine others think it's a good idea, Kizilisik said.

In order to keep peace, the nine might give in, he said.

“I say, 'What are you going to do with your organs in heaven? We need them here,' ” he said.

Kizilisik's obvious bias in favor of donation is an example of why hospital staff never approach families about the idea. Indiana Donor Network representatives are called in to have those discussions.

It's appropriate for caregivers to take a step back and leave those meetings to a third party, said Geoff Thomas, Lutheran spokesman.

Marissa Brunson is grateful for those conversations.

The Huntington woman who volunteers for Indiana Donor Network has received two kidney transplants, both taken from deceased donors. The first was in 2000, and the second was in 2005.

Brunson, 36, was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease when she was in third grade. She was on dialysis from eighth through 11th grades.

Since the second transplant, her quality of life has been “amazing,” she said. Brunson farms with her father and husband. Although she doesn't have children yet, Brunson's doctor has said she's capable of having a normal pregnancy.

Brittani Groninger, married mother of three, is proof that kidney donors can also live full, healthy lives.

The Silver Lake woman, who is Lutheran's living donor coordinator, donated a kidney to her mother six years ago – before any of her children were born.

“There was never really a doubt in my mind” about making the donation 16 years after the first donated kidney began to fail, she said.

Groninger was too young to donate the first time her mother needed a new kidney. Living donors must be between 18 and 65 years old.

Mother and daughter are doing well.

“Most of the time, I forget I even donated,” Groninger said, adding that drinking more water is the only ongoing action she's supposed to take.

Brunson, who has received two kidneys, said the reason people should consider donation is simple: “It can change a life.”

sslater@jg.net