Updated: Apr 5, 2022
Saving someone’s life does not require a medical degree or a baptism. All it requires is a healthy 18-year-old kidney.
The United States’ shortage of kidney donations is a public health crisis. According to Penn Medicine News, “more than 90,000 patients are waiting for kidney transplants, yet only about 20,000 transplants are performed each year.” Annually, around 5,000 patients die before receiving a kidney transplant.
Having a healthy kidney is vital to life. The kidneys act as chemical filtration systems. Their main functions include removing waste products from the body, balancing the body’s fluids, releasing hormones that regulate blood pressure, producing an active form of Vitamin D that builds strong bones and controlling the production of red blood cells.
If kidneys fail, the body begins to build up excess wastes and fluids, which leads to illness. Kidney failure is unable to be completely cured, but patients who receive dialysis (which removes excess wastes and fluids from your body through treatment) oftentimes can live a long, active life.
However, dialysis is not always recommended or effective for patients. Here lies the need for kidney transplants.
A wonder of the human body is that it can function normally with one kidney. This allows for donors to undergo surgery that removes one of their healthy kidneys and gives it to a matching patient in need. The benefits of a living-donor transplant include reduced wait time, better quality organs and better medical outcomes.
The term “surgery” is daunting for many people, yet the process of donating a kidney is relatively seamless. The preferred method, called laparoscopy, removes the kidney through a small incision near the abdominal wall and includes a short recovery time, shorter hospital stay and few to no post-operative complications. Following the kidney removal, patients may feel itchiness or tenderness until the incision heals and undergo less physical activity. Every recovery rate is different amongst individuals.
According to Erin Dupre, these effects carried no weight in comparison to saving someone’s life.
In 2018, Dupre anonymously donated her kidney at the University of Kentucky’s hospital. Her interest in donating originated on Instagram after she watched 10-year-old Hunter Dale participate in the viral “organic egg challenge” to spread awareness for her grandpa needing a kidney.
Dupre felt compelled toward a living donor transplant. First, she offered to donate to her ex-husband Greg. He gave her the OK to donate to Johnston, Dale's grandfather. From there, she took the first steps toward donation, but her compatibility tests did not align.
After three failed attempts at donating to someone she knew, her conviction remained. Dupre told WKT, “I was like, you know what, no, I'm not off the hook. I still want to do this. Why don't you guys just pick someone for me?"
With that, Dupre became an “altruistic” or “non-directed” donor. She matched with Kentuckian Robin Hinton and proceeded with donating her kidney.
Dupre explained this as being the most beneficial thing she’s done in her life.
Years later, she still feels determined to find donors and for people to understand the benefits that come from this experience.
“I just want college students to know that they are not too young to save a life,” Dupre said. “They can donate and then continue to live a perfectly normal life. And no, you don’t have to stop drinking after donating."
Aside from the priceless benefits of saving a life, kidney donors at the University of Kentucky hospital (and any hospital that pairs with the National Kidney Registry) benefit from the Donor Shield. This involves cost reimbursement, kidney prioritization (in the unlikely event of the donor needing a kidney in the future), legal support and donation insurance. With the Donor Shield, the realistic worries of undergoing surgery affecting donors' everyday lives are taken care of.
Another common worry is the question, “What if my family member needs a kidney and I have already given mine away?” The National Kidney Registry (NKR) brings ease to this through the “kidney voucher” program. With this, a non-directed donor can choose to name a recipient at another NKR hospital to receive a “voucher” for a kidney. The donor can also choose up to five friends and family members who can use that “voucher” should any of them ever need a kidney transplant. By doing this, the donor can potentially many more lives than the one their kidney goes to.
The process of becoming a living donor has been simplified to make it an inviting experience. Dupre described her process of donating a kidney as an “honor.”
It is not only life-changing to the patient but the donor as well. All those close to Dupre saw how becoming a donor changed her life.
Her niece described her life change. “I saw my aunt’s outlook on life completely change. She saw her power to save lives," she said. "This continued even after she donated. Others view her as someone who can help. People have approached her asking for help finding a kidney and to speak on how this experience affected her. Many more lives have been changed than just Hinton, her donor.”
Dupre agreed. “It’s definitely true. I’ve done so many radio shows, TV appearances, podcasts and live speaking engagements about it. Just today, the pilot who picked up my foster puppy asked me to find a kidney for his cousin. It happens all the time," Dupre said.
“I have also seen a huge change in my aunt’s confidence through this experience," Dupre's niece said. "Selflessness is a huge part of her character and I think she realized how powerful that aspect of her truly is. This confidence has made her happier ever since.”
Kidney donation inspires all kinds of life-change, from literally saving a life to the mental benefits of self-sacrifice.
If you feel compelled towards this life change in any way or would like to discuss living donor transplants, please contact the University of Kentucky Living Donor Transplant Team by calling (859) 323-2467. To start the initial conversation, Dupre also would love to talk. You can contact her at (502) 655-0228.