Christopher Brantley says he will never forget the moment when he realized that he was going to need dialysis for life if he didn’t get a kidney transplant.
For the 43-year-old Brantley, a Detroit resident who works as an efficiency expert at one of the city’s major hospitals, the “moment of truth” came in November of 2011 . . . as he staggered along a hallway on grotesquely swollen and painfully throbbing feet.
“As long as I live, I’ll never forget that morning,” says Brantley, the father of two children and a Lean Six Sigma Process Improvement Specialist who’s now working on a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership. “Up until that day, I’d always been able to convince myself that my chronic kidney disease could be managed.
“But when I woke up that morning, I could barely get from my bedroom to the bathroom. My feet were swollen up as big as basketballs, and they hurt so bad I just wanted to cry.
“It was then that I finally admitted to myself: If I don’t get a new kidney soon, I’m not going to make it.” Deeply concerned, Brantley feared that if he were required to undergo regular dialysis, he might lose his job due to scheduling issues. He also fretted that he might lose the scheduling flexibility needed for business – and that he would find it much more difficult to care for his children.
Fortunately for Brantley, a former top competitor on the swimming team at the city’s Southwestern High School, a friend had already recommended that he visit the Kidney Transplant Program at DMC Harper University Hospital.
“I do think I was very lucky,” says Brantley today, “because the doctors and nurses at the Harper Kidney Transplant Program immediately stepped in to help me get the care I so badly needed. From that point on, I knew I was in good hands – and I actually began to believe that my health might be restored.”
Long a major public-health problem in Detroit, diabetes-linked CKD requires thousands of area patients to undergo kidney dialysis treatment several times a week. Of the 13,000 patients on dialysis in the state of Michigan, 4,500 reside in Wayne County alone. For this stressed patient population, which is heavily African-American, kidney dialysis provides a vital, life-supporting function. On average, 20 percent of the patients on dialysis will die every year, however. This average is much higher than for patients with common cancers such as colon, prostate and breast cancer. The good news is that kidney transplant provides a second chance at life and reduces the risk of death per year to only eight percent.
The deceased donor waiting list for patients in need of a kidney transplant now exceeds 2,600 – and the average wait-time is around five years.
An option for patients on the wait-list is to receive a kidney from a living donor. A living donor transplant allows a kidney failure patient to get a kidney much quicker than waiting for a deceased donor transplant -- and kidneys from a living donor, on average, last twice as long as kidneys from a deceased donor. Sometimes, though, finding a living donor whose body-chemistry “matches” the chemistry of the recipient can be an overwhelming and difficult challenge. But the good news for many Harper kidney patients who have a live donor is that the “matching” problem has been partly overcome by the donor and recipient pair participating in a hospital based and national donor exchange program. With this program, if the donor is not compatible to the recipient, the kidneys are swapped in an exchange with another live donor and recipient pair who are also not compatible. Thanks to newer medications and protocols, kidney specialists are now able to perform more transplants in situations where it was previously not possible due to the presence of pre-formed anti-donor antibodies in the recipient, commonly referred to as “desensitization”.
For Christopher Brantley, who received a new kidney from a close colleague at work in mid-December of 2011, achieving a successful transplant was literally a life-saver.
“I was very blessed,” the joyful Brantley says today. “First of all, I got an incredible break when one of my co-workers volunteered to give me a healthy kidney. And I was also very fortunate to wind up at Harper Hospital, where they have a large, multidisciplinary team of specialists dedicated to managing every aspect of a kidney transplant.”
At the Harper Organ Transplant Center, kidney specialist (or “nephrologist”) Mona Doshi, M.D., remembers Brantley as “a very positive-minded, very optimistic patient who was absolutely determined to get better.
“Christopher brought a very constructive attitude to the process of recovering his kidney health and that was very helpful,” recalls Dr. Doshi, who managed his care during the lead-up to the transplant operation.
“But his successful outcome was also the result of many coordinated efforts by our dedicated team of multidisciplinary caregivers – including transplant surgeons, nephrologists, nurses, pharmacist, dietician, social worker, financial coordinator, immunology lab personnel, and support staff.”
During a successful operation that took place on December 14, 2011, Christopher Brantley received a healthy new organ from his friend at work. After a hospital stay of only five days, Brantley returned to his Detroit home and his two young children, Dominic and Chrisha. “I had a little pain and a lot of staples,” he remembers today. “But as long as I live, I’ll never forget Christmas morning, a few weeks later. There we all were, sitting around the Christmas tree together. I’d saved up some money and I spent most of it on presents for the kids. And I told myself: This is the best Christmas of my entire life.”
For Dr. Doshi, meanwhile, Christopher Brantley’s successful outcome is a compelling example of how the veteran Harper Kidney Transplant Team is often able to use its carefully honed skills to “give patients a second chance at life.”
Describing the transplant program, she’s quick to point out that CKD patients often face “an uphill battle” to recover their health. “Unfortunately, the average life expectancy for kidney dialysis patients is markedly lower than age-, gender-, and race-matched individuals from general population,” she says, “and kidney transplant will partly lower this increased mortality associated with dialysis. And it’s also true that although African-Americans make up only about 15 percent of the general population, they account for 30-40 percent of those on dialysis.”
While noting that April is Organ Donation Awareness Month, Dr. Doshi urged potential donors to consider giving friends and loved ones the most precious gift imaginable: “The gift of a second chance at life.” Such donations are especially needed in the Detroit area, she added, while pointing out that “at Harper, we’re really proud of the fact that our kidney-transplant program reaches more African-American patients, per capita, than any other program of its kind in the United States.”
To learn more about the DMC Harper University Hospital Kidney Transplant Center: http://www.harperhutzel.org/transplant.