Murray, UT – Lee Sheppard spent last Thanksgiving in the emergency room, suffering from kidney failure. This year, he’s grateful for his health and his future because of a newly transplanted kidney — a gift from his wife Pamela.
Remarkably, it was the 1,000th living donor kidney transplant at Intermountain Medical Center.
“One thousand is a lot to celebrate,” says Kari Jones, director of Transplant Services at Intermountain Medical Center, the flagship hospital of the Intermountain Healthcare system. “These living donors deserve our thanks for their selflessness. Because of them, more of our patients are alive today.”
The Intermountain Transplant Program began in 1983 at LDS Hospital. Today, it is the largest, most active organ transplant program in the Intermountain Region, performing more than 135 heart, kidney, liver, and pancreas transplants each year. The program has been recognized for better outcomes and shorter wait times than the national average.
Lee Sheppard, 55, suffered from polycystic kidney disease (PKD). The condition affects about 600,000 Americans, causing cysts and eventually kidney failure. Lee’s form of the disease is hereditary; his father and uncle died of complications from the disease.
Lee lived with PKD for over 20 years with few symptoms. That changed last Thanksgiving when severe back pain sent him to the emergency room. Tests showed huge cysts on his kidneys. His doctors recommended surgery to remove the organs, which were functioning at less than 20 percent of normal.
After many months of dialysis, Lee was healthy enough to undergo a transplant. Pamela, 45, immediately offered one of hers.
“I wanted to be able to do this so that he wouldn’t have to live on dialysis, and could travel and have a normal life,” she says.
The couple underwent surgery on November 1, 2011. Three weeks later, as another Thanksgiving holiday approaches, the Sheppards are optimistic.
“I feel liberated,” says Lee. “This has been such a blessing. It was a particular gift that Pam was my match and that we were able to do this together, supporting each other through all the ups and downs. And the joy of learning that the kidney was functioning – that was a very special thing.”
The couple are recovering well, aided by friends, family, and the Intermountain transplant team. They’re thankful for the professionalism and compassion of the transplant program, as well as everyone who has made the choice to donate an organ and change another person’s life.
“This was a huge gift,” says Lee. “I feel so emotionally and spiritually optimistic.”
Patients in the Intermountain region who need a liver or kidney transplant can receive an organ from a living donor. That can be a friend, family member, or even a “Good Samaritan” donor whom they’ve never met. Anyone can be screened to see if they are a match for a patient who needs a kidney or liver. Intermountain’s Transplant Services team has performed 31 Good Samaritan transplants since 2002.
Living donation has a higher success rate for two reasons:
- Surgeries can be scheduled and coordinated for quick transplantation. The longer an organ remains outside of the body, the harder it is for that organ to function again.
- The screening and matching process is easier, quicker, and safer.
Living donation also makes more organs available for people who need them.
“It is a remarkable achievement to do 1,000 kidney transplants,” says Lee. “Think of the large number of people who were blessed by those 1,000 donations. What a noble and selfless thing they have done.”