Donating life

Jenny Summers, left, and unit director Brittany Shepherd stand in the lobby of the Jean B. Weaver Dialysis Unit.

Brittany Shepherd serves as the dialysis department director at Salem Memorial District Hospital. Dialysis takes place at SMDH approximately three days per week, for three to four hours each. Most of the patients are in their 60s or 70s.

Shepherd, who came to SMDH about four years ago, previously worked in acute care, and labor and delivery. In making the move to dialysis, she has found her place.

“I spend so much time with these patients. I spend more time with patients in this unit, sometimes more than my own extended family. That time builds relationships,” said Shepherd.

Organ donation is sometimes the only way for people to be removed from dialysis. In addition, some people who are on the transplant list are not on dialysis. One such patient is Jenny Summers.

Summers is in stage 4 renal failure. After being in pre-term labor with twins over 10 years ago, her kidneys began to fail. When tested, she was in stage 2 renal failure. Her kidney function was monitored for years, then she completed prerequisite testing for a transplant in 2019. She was told she was “too healthy” at the time to be listed. After being tested in February of this year, with the further advancement of her failure, she was placed on the active list.

Living with the failure is an option, but not one she wants to continue with the remainder of her life. At age 33, and the mother of twins, she wants to be more active than her body allows. Oftentimes her symptoms are being excessively tired, with no energy, high blood pressure and gout. All are attempted to be controlled with meds, but that doesn’t always work.

Her kids are understanding, and look forward to the possibility she will be better soon.

“They understand what is going on, and often ask ‘will you be able to play and not be so tired after the transplant?’ And that is heartbreaking for me to hear. It is hard to understand sometimes, even for me. They are a huge help. Finding out at age 22 that you shouldn’t have more kids, and this is part of your life, but no one knows the reasons why, is a tough thing at any age,” said Summers.

A family friend was going to donate to Summers. Steve Denbow, from Licking, went through all of the testing to be a donor, and after everything passed, including three out of six DNA markers, the donation was cancelled. Denbow had a heart condition about six years ago that removes him from the eligibility of being a live donor.

Summers admitted to not wanting to participate in the interview at first.

“I don’t want sympathy for what is going on, I just want to share the information,” Summers said.

She did not give much thought to donation before her own struggle with renal failure. Now she wants to encourage more people to donate.

“You can live with one kidney, donation is huge, and nothing can stop you from living a perfectly normal life after donation,” she said. As she remains on the list, her bags stay packed at all times. A transplant team, including nephrologists, a financial coordinator, social worker, coordinator, among others, are in contact with Summers often. They encourage her to stay positive and be ready when she gets the call.

In the meantime, her blood is drawn weekly at the SMDH lab.

“We are so blessed to have this hospital, with the lab, emergency room, dialysis, and everything else they offer. It is close to home so we don’t have to travel as often back and forth to doctors,” she said. “I have built relationships with the people in the lab after seeing them weekly. My son and Brittany’s even play baseball together.”

A support system is important to Summers. As most people in renal failure seem to be later in years, she found a support group via Facebook. The group is nationwide and a relationship with a 26-year-old transplant patient in New York has been an amazing help to her.

“I knew I needed to find a support group,” she said. “I wanted to share experiences, and ask questions from people who are feeling and going through the same things that I am. I found that. It is amazing to know I am not alone in this process.”

She mentioned the family support she receives as well, as making a difficult process, more bearable.

Donation of Life

Salem Memorial District Hospital’s first dialysis machine was purchased in 1971. The unit was dedicated in 1988, named for Jean B. Weaver.

Dialysis uses a filtering machine to filter waste out of your body, something the kidneys normally perform. While dialysis filters the waste, it can’t replace other kidney functions, such as hormones. For some patients, dialysis is the only option for treating kidney disease, while for others it keeps them alive until they can receive a transplant.

Dr. Garcia and several other doctors visit SMDH at least monthly to maintain patient contact for those on dialysis. On average the unit supports dialysis for about 12 patients, and there is a waiting list. Primarily patients suffer from high blood pressure and diabetes that results in the need.

Taking a look at the numbers for organ transplants are staggering: 22 people die each day because the organ they need is not donated in time; another person is added to the waiting list every 10 minutes; one organ, eye and tissue donor can save and heal more than 75 lives.

While many people are in favor of becoming a donor, only close to 60 percent are registered.

People of all ages and medical histories can be potential donors. A person’s medical condition at the time of death will determine what organs and tissues can be donated.

Donate Life America manages the National Donate Life Registry. The registry was launched in 2015 to make donor registration easy. Registering your decision to be an organ donor in the registry ensures your status travels with you, no matter where you live or visit in the country.

Any adult age 18 or older can register to be a donor – regardless of age or medical history.

The National Donate Life Registry is separate from an individual’s state donor registry.

To register on the national database visit RegisterMe.org.

While some choose to donate at the end of life, living donor transplants are a possible alternative. Living donor can supply organs, however, the most frequent is the kidney.

This is the most frequent type of living organ donation.

• More information: UNOS, https://transplantliving.org; https://www.donatelife.net/