LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 17, 2018) – When UK HealthCare employee Kim Powell learned that her brother had polycystic kidney disease and needed a transplant, she didn't hesitate to become a "living donor" and offer her own.
"His kidney disease was inherited," she said. "Any of us siblings could have gotten it -- he was just the one who ended up with it."
She underwent extensive testing, and as it turns out, Powell's kidney was a perfect match for her brother. In March 2011, they went into surgery at UK HealthCare to undergo the kidney swap.
Following a kidney donation, many donors are told to take off work for 4-6 weeks to recover. In Powell's case, she needed the full six weeks before she felt back to her old self.
"At four weeks, I didn't feel like I was ready to go back," she said. "I was very tired for those first six weeks; nauseated. And I was also in some pain just from the surgery."
Having worked at the University of Kentucky for more than two decades prior to undergoing surgery, Powell had accrued enough sick time to cover her long leave. However, she recognizes how fortunate she was to be in that position – without her bank of sick and vacation time, she may not have been able to help her brother.
"I couldn't have taken off any time without pay," she said. "I would have tried anything I could, but I may not have been able to give to him, which is sad."
Now, a new UK medical leave policy will give generous donors like Powell some peace of mind. Beginning April 1st, UK enacted a new leave policy for full-time employees who wish to give others a second chance at life:
- Employees who donate bone marrow will receive five days paid medical leave.
- Employees who donate a solid organ (kidney, partial liver, or partial lung) will receive 30 days paid medical leave.
At UK HealthCare, the ability to receive organ or tissue donations is crucial to many of the complex medical treatments offered.
“With an academic medical center focused on specialty medicine, including transplants, we recognize the generosity and sacrifice of bone marrow and organ donors," said Kim Wilson, vice president and chief human resources officer at UK. "The University offers this new paid leave to allow employees time to recover and to recognize their generous spirit.”
In Kentucky, more than 1,000 people are on the organ transplant waiting list, and the vast majority of those patients – approximately 800 – are in need of a kidney. Last year, the UK Transplant Center performed 98 kidney transplants, with roughly 28 percent of those transplants coming from a living donor.
While the organ donor registry may be able to provide a suitable kidney from a deceased donor, patients often have to wait for years, surviving through weekly dialysis until a suitable donor becomes available. Receiving a kidney from a living donor both removes patients from the transplant waiting list and increases the chances of a better overall outcome from the surgery.
"The message this sends to our UK community is one of hope – we want donors to be recognized and supported for their selfless gift," said Dr. Thomas Waid, medical director of the Kidney & Pancreas Transplant Program at UK. "This policy does just that. Even more, we want other institutions to take note. We have a real opportunity to impact the lives of Kentuckians and those around the region, and the more people that donate, the more lives we can save.”
At the UK Markey Cancer Center, physicians perform upwards of 110 bone marrow transplants each year. For patients dealing with deadly blood cancers, receiving donated bone marrow may be their only option for survival. Although recovery times vary, a bone marrow donor can expect to take anywhere from 1-7 days until they feel normal.
Be the Match is a national registry that matches anonymous donors with patients in need of a bone marrow transplant. After joining, UK HealthCare employee Donna Wall received two calls from the registry for a possible opportunity to donate, but both fell through. But about five years ago, she was called upon for a third time to donate her marrow to a young child in Europe.
For the extraction, Wall was placed under general anesthesia while a physician used a needle to withdraw the liquid marrow from her pelvic bone. The most common side effects of this procedure include back or hip pain, fatigue, and muscle pain.
Wall notes that she felt sore for several weeks after, similar to a bruise, but says she was ready to go back to work within a few days.
"I donated on a Thursday and took Thursday and Friday off work, but I was back to work Monday," she said. "It really wasn't that bad."
Wall, who has been with UK for 35 years, says she was inspired to join Be the Match after spending time working in both UK's tissue typing/IMP and stem cell processing labs. Like Powell, she was also able to cover her time off, but hopes that the new policy will inspire others to give.
"I think it's awesome!" she said. "Maybe more people who didn't have the time to take off would be more interested in doing it. The chance to help someone is a good thing."
“Implementation of this medical leave policy is a fantastic step in the right direction, as it will help UK donors to fulfill their goal, which is to help and possibly provide the only chance for cure to our patients and to patients around the globe," said Dr. Gerhard Hildebrandt, division chief for Hematology and Blood and Marrow Transplantation. "It will break down barriers, increase access to donors and grow our donor pool. And leading by example, UK hopefully will be followed by many others on this path."
Currently, 37 U.S. states have a statute regarding living donor leave for either state employees or all public or private employees, although Kentucky is not included in that number. With this new policy, UK becomes the largest university -- and one of the largest employers -- in the state to offer this extra benefit.
For Powell, whose brother is alive and well thanks to her gift, the new policy is a "wonderful idea" that she hopes will encourage others to choose living donation to help someone in need.
"I would donate again tomorrow if I could," she said. "It's a life-changing thing for someone else. You're helping someone that really needs it."
UK is the University for Kentucky. At UK, we are educating more students, treating more patients with complex illnesses and conducting more research and service than at any time in our 150-year history. To read more about the UK story and how you can support continued investment in your university and the Commonwealth, go to: uky.edu/uk4ky. #uk4ky #seeblue