Memorial's Kidney Transplant Program Seeks Living Donors

April 14, 2023

Dr. Linda Chen

In its five-year history, Memorial Healthcare System’s Kidney Transplant Program has directly impacted more than 300 lives through both deceased donor and live donor kidney transplants. While deceased donor rates have been increasing, doctors say the number of live donor transplants could be exponentially higher if individuals in South Florida understood how they could help fill an unmet need.

Just 41 of the 309 kidneys that have been transplanted at Memorial have come from living donors. That’s less than 15% in a community where trouble finding a suitable organ, whether from a living or deceased donor, keeps extremely sick individuals on waiting lists and undergoing dialysis that leads to higher mortality and morbidity.

“A kidney coming from a living donor lasts two to three time longer than one procured from a person that recently died,” said Linda Chen, MD, a kidney transplant surgeon and surgical director of Memorial Healthcare System’s Living Donor and Pediatric Abdominal Transplant program. “Increasing the number of living donors is the only way to meet demand and ease suffering for those with long-term kidney disease.”

A healthy kidney filters blood, makes urine, and produces red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. Humans are born with two, but only one is needed to perform the functions required to stay alive and healthy.

Between 2021 and 2022, Memorial was able to increase its living donor transplants by 167%, in part by educating individuals that could donate about a procedure that carries minimal risk, little pain, and, after a brief recovery, permits the donor to return to their previous lifestyle. One of the donor’s kidneys is removed during a minimally-invasive, laparoscopic procedure that requires only small incisions and a brief hospital stay.

“It’s more important than ever to be aware of the difference that can be made with a living kidney donation. We’re asking all South Floridians to understand kidney disease can strike any one of us at any time, and that a living donor kidney transplant can be the greatest gift of all,” said Chen, who has performed more than 1,500 transplants during her career.

Any reasonably healthy person 18 or older is a potential live kidney donor, with an extensive, comprehensive medical workup preceding any procedure to determine suitability. There are no expenses for those willing to contribute.

Memorial’s Transplant Institute is one of four centers in Florida, and among a hundred or so in the U.S., working with the National Kidney Registry, a nonprofit that offers a variety of living donation programs. That includes paired donations, also known as “kidney swaps,” where a living kidney donor and a recipient that may be incompatible swap kidneys with a donor that is compatible with the recipient.

There are only three kidney transplant centers in South Florida, with the Memorial program the first in Broward County to operate on both adults and children.