HealthLinks Upstate Sept/Oct 2022

www.Ups tatePhys i c i ansSC . com | www.Hea l thL i nksUps tate. com | 25 There’s a direct line from Linda’s cancer to her transplant. As she recovered from her surgery, she met and befriended several breast cancer survivors. Over the years, that’s evolved into a small group of very close friends who have stood by Linda through her journey. A pair of sisters both volunteered to donate a kidney. One matched, which put Linda in the relatively small group of transplant patients – 27% – who don't have to wait on the United Network for Organ Sharing list. “It is an amazing gift. I am in awe of these girls and incredibly grateful,” Linda said. As Cathy Self, a Greenville County special education teacher, found out, the path to becoming a living donor is challenging. Before she could be accepted to be Linda’s donor, she had to undergo a battery of tests from a nuclear stress test of her heart to a CAT scan to explore her body for as-yet-unseen illness or cancers – and countless vials of drawn blood. Living kidney donation is the one medical procedure that has the potential to run up against the Hippocratic oath of “first, do no harm.” Although removing a kidney is a low-risk procedure, there are a “broad base of challenges we have to think through,” Dr. Merchen explained, “that are mostly thought-provoking and inspiring.” Transplant staff must balance the risk not only of the surgery but of the donor’s long-term health. If the loss of a kidney puts donors at even potential risk of a major health complication later in life, they may be disqualified. “We know if we pick correctly and carefully, the vast majority of living donors do well and would do it again. We have to be extraordinarily careful to give them the opportunity to think through all those risks,” Dr. Merchen noted. Cathy sees her donation as both a gift to a well-loved friend and an affirmation of goodness in the world: “We can help this crisis of so many people needing a kidney. If we all work together, we can make a difference.” Linda was discharged three days after the transplant; Cathy left a day later. During their hospitalization, four more transplants were performed. The Upstate’s new transplant center is already feeling its growing pains and is planning to add two more nephrologists and another surgeon to its current roster that includes coordinators, pharmacists, nutritionists and other support staff. “It can be pretty daunting to go through anything as complex as a transplant,” Dr. Merchen explained. “We are trying to build a very patient-friendly, communicative and open process that puts patients at the center.” Visit for more information on becoming an organ donor. Cathy and Linda. KIDNEY TRANSPLANTS By the Numbers In 2020, 6.4% of patients died on the waiting list while another 20% were removed. 10,240 patients in the Southeast region are waiting for a kidney, 1,472 of them in South Carolina. SIXTEEN more people will be added to the waiting list each day. The average wait time for a kidney transplant in South Carolina is 42 MONTHS. From June 2021 to June 2022, there have been 433 TRANSPLANTS performed in South Carolina. Sources:,,, OPTN metrics.