For Sara Danner, the Mid-America Transplant mission of saving lives through excellence in organ and tissue donation hits close to home. “This mission is very, very dear to my heart,” she says. “I’m from Springfield, Illinois. And while living there, I worked for about 10 years in a kidney transplant program at one of the hospitals. I moved to St. Louis and was excited by the opportunity to promote organ donation.”
Danner’s family suffers from polycystic kidney disease, which is a genetic disorder where clusters of cysts develop primarily within the kidneys, causing them to enlarge and lose function over time. “Polycystic kidney disease has impacted my grandmother and my father. Fortunately, I’m ok, but the mission runs into my brother and now my nephew, too,” she adds.
And Danner’s family isn’t alone. An estimated 37 million people in the United States, one out of every seven, are believed to have chronic kidney disease (CKD), according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Even worse, as many as nine in ten people aren't even aware they have CKD, which makes bringing awareness to kidney disease critically important. To further this awareness, the National Kidney Foundation designates March as National Kidney Month.
What is National Kidney Month?
National Kidney Month, celebrated every March, brings awareness to kidney health and encourages people to support kidney disease research and take steps to keep their own kidneys safe and healthy. Normal functioning kidneys filter waste and perform vital functions that control things like red blood cell production and blood pressure. Over time, the kidneys can become damaged with little or no physical symptoms to warn you that they are in trouble.
“Of the 37 million American adults estimated to have kidney disease, most don’t know they have it. That’s why taking care of your kidneys, especially if you are at risk for kidney disease, is vital,” says Joseph Vassalotti, MD, National Kidney Foundation Chief Medical Officer.
When is a kidney transplant necessary?
Once an individual ends up in kidney failure (also called end-stage renal disease or ESRD), their kidneys can only function at a fraction of their normal capacity and they need either dialysis or a kidney transplant to stay alive. In addition to polycystic kidney disease, causes of kidney failure can include diabetes, chronic uncontrolled high blood pressure (hypertension), or chronic glomerulonephritis, which is an inflammation and scarring of the tiny filters within the kidneys.
“I am a recipient family and a donor family myself,” Danner says. “I’ve seen my grandmother go through dialysis, my father go through a transplant and my nephew is going to need a kidney transplant, too.”
National Kidney Month raises awareness for kidney transplants
Although National Kidney Month highlights the need for awareness around kidney disease, it’s also a time to spotlight organ donation. According to Donate Life America, more than 90,000 people in the United States are on the national transplant list waiting for a donor kidney. Those waiting for a kidney transplant represent 82 percent of all the names currently on the list. On average, a person who receives a kidney transplant can see their quality of life improve from eight to 20 years. And because a person can live with only one kidney, living donation offers another choice for some transplant candidates. With living donation, a patient may be able to receive a kidney transplant in one year or less.
As the community engagement coordinator for Mid-America Transplant, Danner is in charge of coordinating the volunteer program, which ultimately helps to bring awareness around the importance of organ donation. And Danner says the role is definitely a perfect match for her.
“This is a passion for me and something that is an honor for me to do,” she says. When I present in public, it’s very much something that comes from my heart.”
Register as an organ donor and
Just one month into her role with Mid-America, Danner’s younger brother passed away becoming a tissue donor and highlighting once again how she lives out the mission personally. “My brother was 32 when he died. He’d give the shirt off of his back and was the most giving person I know,” she says. “At the time of his death, he was able to be a tissue donor. His picture and the picture of my nephew are both on my desk. They are my reminder every day of why this work is important. It's their stories that keep me going. This is not just a job, it’s a passion. This is our mission and I'm meant to be here to do this work.”
This March, the mission is two-fold: raise awareness about kidney disease and register as an organ, eye, and tissue donor. By registering, you can bring hope to patients and families who are holding out for a miracle. Sign up for the donor registry and increase the chance that patients waiting will get the transplants they need to survive.