USC program helps living donors improve their health for safer transplants

"I did these changes for my brother," said a woman whose sibling is battling kidney disease. "In the long run, it also helped me."

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Friday, January 21, 2022
USC program helping living donors improve health for safer transplants
A program at Keck Medicine of USC is helping living donors improve their health for safer transplants while also reducing local health disparities.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- More than 110,000 people in the U.S. are waiting on a life-saving organ transplant, but there's a shortage of kidneys and livers for people on the list.

Some of the need can be met by living donors, but Keck Hospital of USC found 30% of potential living donors are rejected due to reversible medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease.

If corrected, it could improve the health of would-be donors and would make donating safer.

"In the past, a lot of the effort and things that donors needed to do were on their own, so we wanted to be able to provide some resources to help them along the way," said Dr. Jim Kim, the director of kidney and pancreas transplantation at Keck Medicine of USC.

The university has always promoted health and wellness for potential donors, but a new pilot program is pooling those resources to formalize and track what works and what doesn't for those potential donors while also reducing health disparities in the community.

"We want to make sure that we are able to achieve success with as many donors as possible and that they're able to become healthier in the process, reach their goals and help their loved ones," said Dr. Susan Kim, an outpatient kidney transplant dietician at Keck Medicine of USC.

Elizabeth Sanchez Juarez recently found out her brother had kidney disease and would need a transplant.

"We all spoke about it, and instead of seeing as something negative, we tried to come up with a positive solution," she said.

Juarez lost more than 30 pounds since September when she began the donor wellness program at Keck Hospital. She has free access to nutrition consultants, lifestyle redesign coaching and fitness support - all steps meant for a successful donation.

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Over a two-year period, the program will track results and help her maintain the life changes.

"I did these changes for my brother, but in the long run, it also helped me," she said. "I started new habits that I know, because of this, I would like to continue to carry on with forever."

The pilot program is available to 20 participants in its first year, and if successful, could be used in other communities where efforts to find more living donors might be met through getting more willing donors in good health.

"It's been so amazing and exciting to be on this journey with her to see her transformation ... to see her reach her goals," said Kim of Juarez's journey. "She is so motivated and generous and inspiring."

Kim hopes the concept of the program grows in hopes of replicating the system at other institutions.

"In this age of wellness, there's a wellness program for everyone," she said. "So I think it's important that we do focus on what living donors are sacrificing and be able to provide something for them as well."