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Living kidney donor gives life to dad

In the spring of 2013, Lonnie Henderson’s quality of life was about to make an about-face. Newly diagnosed with stage 5 kidney disease due to type 1 (inherited) diabetes, he would soon begin facing dialysis to cleanse dangerous toxins out of his blood.

“That meant four hours of treatments up to three times a week,” said the 59-year old Wylie, Texas, resident. “I was dreading that drastic change to my life.”

Then Lonnie received monumental news and a ray of hope from the kidney transplant program at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas. He had three potential matching living donors: two of his sons and a brother.

Living donors are people who donate one of their two healthy kidneys for transplant.

Eye-Opening Facts

At Baylor University Medical Center, it’s not dialysis, but transplant, especially from a living donor, that is the far superior treatment for people with stage 5 kidney disease, said Steven Hays, MD, medical director of the living donor kidney program and a physician on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.

Surprisingly, he said, many patients and their doctors are not aware of this.

“There are few things in life that are so important as this, but that are also so simple to do,” he said.

“Compared to patients on dialysis, those who receive living donor transplants live three times longer,” he said.

“Costs are also three times less. Living-donor kidneys last twice as long as deceased-donor kidneys. Living donors also have healthier kidneys than the average population, because our screening is so strict. Those are eye-opening statistics that we want to share.”

Commendable Donors

Someone wishing to donate a kidney to a patient who is on the active kidney waiting list can undergo evaluation and donation in as little as four weeks at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas. Living donors include husband-wife couples, relatives, friends and “paired donors.” Paired donors are patients (the kidney recipients) with friends or relatives who are willing to donate but who do not have the right blood type. In those cases, the Baylor Dallas team uses a nationwide database to locate similarly unmatched pairs of willing donors and recipients.

Only about half of those who volunteer as a living donor for the kidney transplant program are accepted.

“Our goal is to protect the health of the living donor, as well as the recipient,” Dr. Hays said. “We do rigorous screenings to make sure the donor will have a long, healthy life after giving such a generous gift.”

Lonnie Henderson and his son, Joel Henderson.

For Lonnie, the very best match was his own son, Joel, age 31. And Joel’s gift on May 20, 2014, was a true gift of life.

“Thirty minutes after transplant, the kidney started working like a champ,” Lonnie said.

And his life improved dramatically. He was even able to resume gardening and other activities he enjoyed, like bowling. And son Joel, of McKinney, is also back to his active life, appreciative of what the Baylor Dallas transplant team means to his entire family. As for being a living donor, Joel says it was his calling, and a surprisingly “simple” one, at that.

“There are few things in life that are so important as this, but that are also so simple to do,” he said.

“I just showed up for the surgery on a Tuesday, sat around for two weeks to recover, and I am now back to my normal life. And I’ll live as long as anyone else. What I got in return was my Dad. Baylor University Medical Center made that all possible. It was phenomenal.”

Learn more about Baylor Scott & White’s living kidney donation program.

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Living kidney donor gives life to dad