Living donor transplantation is the optimal therapy for end-stage kidney disease, says Dr. Lloyd Ratner, director of Renal & Pancreatic Transplantation at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia. “There were probably only a handful of living donor transplants done in the country at that time,” says Dr. Ratner of Jennifer’s donation. “Living donation is much, much easier now.”
Today, living kidney donors aren’t limited to family members – they can be a friend, or even a stranger. And being a living donor presents low short-term, as well as low long-term risk, says Dr. Ratner, who is also professor of surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
NewYork-Presbyterian’s centers are home to two of the biggest living donor kidney transplant programs, with options that make the lifesaving operation more accessible and minimally invasive.
“Since 1995, we’ve been doing the living donor operation laparoscopically,” says Dr. Ratner, who, with a colleague, performed the world’s first-ever laparoscopic donor nephrectomy. “[That way,] most people spend two days in the hospital and are back to full speed within three weeks.”
Following her donation, Jennifer went on to play tennis regularly for 20 years. And she continues to enjoy biking and doing Pilates, along with spending time with her family.
“I never wake up worrying that I have one kidney,” says Jennifer. “I remain forever grateful to have played a small role in the transplant surgery that saved my sister’s life.”
As of April 2022, nearly 90,000 people in the United States are awaiting a kidney, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. Living donors have the power to significantly reduce that number.
“I [always] knew and appreciated what this opportunity meant for Melinda and for my family,” says Jennifer. “Fifty years later, it remains the best and most poignant decision I have ever made.”