Cartersville couple takes part in National Kidney Registry's Paired Exchange program

Gift of Life

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While she was deemed ineligible to serve as her husband’s donor, Carole Miller remained steadfast in her mission to help extend his life.

Participating in the National Kidney Registry’s Paired Exchange program, the Cartersville residents were matched with two individuals from Los Angeles and currently are recovering from their respective surgeries. A day after the 59-year-old donated her kidney in mid-July, her husband, Stuart, received a new lease on life from his California contributor.

“Stuart was officially diagnosed with kidney disease shortly after we moved to Cartersville in 2008,” Mrs. Miller said. “After some of his blood tests related to his annual physical exam indicated some cause for concern, our general practitioner, Dr. [Tom] Bevill, sent Stuart to see Dr. [Manolo] Gallego, an area nephrologist. After a couple more years of regular monitoring, Dr. Gallego suggested a biopsy be done to the kidneys to gather more information regarding the extent of Stuart’s kidney disease and damage. The biopsy identified his disease to be IgA [nephropathy], which is [a] slow-progressing kidney disease that usually results in stage 4 kidney disease and failure. Kidney failure will lead to death.

“Dialysis and/or kidney transplant are the only two life-saving options. About 18 months ago, Stuart began to make active inquiries about the process of kidney transplant as a treatment to his disease. Keep in mind that kidney transplant is not a cure, it is a treatment. After rigorous, months-long testing at Emory University Hospital, he was accepted as a transplant patient. The next challenge was to find a compatible kidney. Getting a kidney from a living donor is the best and fastest way to get a kidney. Finding a compatible kidney can take many months and requires the help of many wonderful people who are willing to be tested to be a possible donor. Finding a compatible kidney from a [deceased] donor can take four [to] six years.”

After filling out an online questionnaire containing lifestyle and health history questions, Mrs. Miller advanced to the next stage of testing to be a living donor for her husband. However, she — and Miller’s brother and two friends were declared ineligible after their blood type was found to be incompatible with his.

“We found out about the Paired Exchange program through the National Kidney Registry,” Mrs. Miller said. “This program matches folks who are in need of a kidney and who have someone willing to give a kidney, but who is not compatible to them, to give a kidney to someone else who has someone with a kidney to give.

“This process is sometimes described as a Daisy Chain. Once we learned of this program, I decided that this is what I wanted to do.”

In late June, the Millers received the happy news they were matched with another pair from Los Angeles.

“We received the call six weeks prior to the surgery,” Mrs. Miller said. “We were excited and anxious. After getting our business and personal affairs in order, we were ready. My three-hour surgery was held on the morning of July 18. My kidney was flown to Los Angeles that afternoon. Stuart’s kidney arrived from Los Angeles, early in the morning of July 19. His four-hour surgery occurred later that same morning.

“I was discharged Friday afternoon,” she said, adding she stayed at the Mason Guest House situated on the Emory University campus while her husband was still in the hospital. “Stuart was discharged on Sunday afternoon. … We are in our third week of recovery. I am feeling well; better and better every day. I should be able to start driving again soon. Stuart’s recovery is slower. He has many medications to take for the rest of his life to make sure that his system does not reject the new kidney.

“It is natural for the human body to want to kick out any foreign objects in the body. This new kidney, since it is not his own, is viewed as a foreign object by his body. The drugs he has to take help his body accept the new kidney. The doctors at Emory will continue testing him, first twice and then once a week, for the next several months until they feel he has stabilized and developed a balanced relationship with his new kidney and the rest of his body.”

Expressing his gratitude to his donor, Miller is looking forward to officially thanking him or her in the future. As his wife noted, Miller’s recovery is a slow process. On Friday, Mrs. Miller shared he was admitted to Emory Thursday for about four days for treatment “after a biopsy showed some mild rejection.” 

“We have not had a chance to talk with my donor,” 58-year-old Miller said. “I would like the opportunity to thank them for their kindness and for saving my life. Not sure that there [are] any words I could say that could express how thankful I really am.

“… I would strongly encourage your readers to look at becoming a living donor to help save lives. People need to understand that anyone who is [in] good overall health is a potential candidate. Donors do not need to have any particular person in mind, they can be an altruistic donor and their kidney will be used by someone in need.”

Echoing her husband, Mrs. Miller also underscored the importance of being a living organ donor. According to the National Kidney Foundation, more than 101,000 Americans are on the wait list for a kidney transplant, however only 17,000 individuals receive this donation annually.

“Organ donation saves lives. Simple as that,” she said. “Unless people have religious beliefs that preclude organ donation upon death, there is no reason, in my mind, not to sign up to be a donor. You can do this when you update your driver’s license.

“[Becoming] a living donor is something that I encourage folks to consider, especially if they have a friend or loved one who is in need of this life-saving gift. Living kidney donations are … currently the most common live donations, however other organs such as a lung, parts of the liver and pancreas and intestines can also be donated by a living donor.”

Reflecting on his health journey, Miller extended thanks to his loved ones for their support and willingness to help prolong his life.

“The transplant was first recommended in December of 2016, so it has been about 18 months,” he said. “It was very surreal to receive the notification that the National Kidney Registry had helped us find a match. Even now three weeks later, it is difficult to realize that the transplant has been done.

“… I want to thank all of our friends and family who have helped us during this difficult time. Also, [I] want to thank the transplant team at Emory, who have made us feel comfortable throughout the whole process. In particular, I need to thank my wife for her tireless support, patience and for her bravery in helping save my life.”

For more information about kidney disease or donation, visit the National Kidney Foundation’s website, www.kidney.org.