A kidney transplant is generally a better option than renal replacement therapy for patients with ESRD who are lucky enough to receive one. A transplant can restore an individual’s long-term health and quality of life, and is also cost-effective. Dialysis, whether hemo- or peritoneal, and whether performed in-center or at home, is life preserving and necessary. However, it cannot compete with the benefits of receiving a real organ.
When Rizwan Badar, MD, a nephrologist in southern California, learned that his older brother needed a kidney, he didn’t hesitate to offer him one of his own. He and his brother, Owais, underwent surgery in the summer of 2017, and have both made full recoveries. Dr. Badar said the experience was humbling and that it has helped make him a better physician and improved the way he communicates with his patients.
“My brother was basically living out by the beach, enjoying a normal life. He was very social and always liked to go out with friends,” Dr. Badar said. “But then when he went into kidney failure and needed dialysis, like many of my patients, it changed everything.”
Owais, who lives in Louisiana, worked as a paralegal until he got sick about 5 years ago. Although his doctors weren’t sure exactly what caused his kidney failure, they believed it was most likely due to uncontrolled high blood pressure that persisted for many years. He had been on dialysis ever since, feeling more and more like a shadow of himself as treatments continued.
In addition, Owais was experiencing early stage heart failure, and his doctors were concerned that performing a transplant would be extremely dangerous. Thus they did not place him on the transplant waiting list right away. Luckily though, around the beginning of the summer of 2017, his cardiac condition began to improve somewhat. Although his doctors deemed him a high-risk patient, they felt he was just healthy enough to be added to the waiting list.
“His surgeons decided that if Owais ever had the opportunity to get a kidney, it should happen as soon as possible,” Dr. Badar said.
He and his younger brother both wanted to help, so they got tested to see if they were a compatible match. When the results came back, Dr. Badar was deemed the better-matched candidate. He didn’t think twice about going through with the procedure to save his brother’s life.
Since Owais and his team of doctors were in Louisiana, Dr. Badar traveled to Tulane University for the surgery.
“The easiest part of the procedure was for me,” he laughed. “I just had to shower with a special antiseptic shampoo for 24 hours prior to the surgery to lessen the amount of bacteria on my body, and then show up.” He explained that it was a bit more involved for his brother, the recipient, and his team of doctors. Fortunately, the procedures both went without a hitch, and Owais started producing urine on the surgical table practically as soon as the surgeons connected the kidney. He has not needed dialysis since, and there were no complications from the surgery.
People often ask if Owais’s condition inspired him to pursue nephrology, but in fact, Dr. Badar had been practicing nephrology long before his brother became sick.
“To me, it’s the best field,” Dr. Badar said. “I really like to be involved in all aspects of medicine, and nephrology is that one subspecialty that really covers all the organ systems of the body. After all, most end-stage organ diseases will ultimately affect the kidney. So essentially, you have to have knowledge of all organ systems to be able to practice as a nephrologist. It’s challenging and it fascinates me.”
Being a kidney donor has also given Dr. Badar a unique opportunity to relate with his patients and their donors on a more personal level.
“Before, if someone asked me about kidney donation, I would just say ‘oh yeah, it’s easy. You just go have the surgery, they take out a kidney, and the next day you go home,’” Dr. Badar said.
But having gone through the surgery himself, Dr. Badar now realizes that there is more to it: “... when it’s suddenly you, it makes you think about things a lot more.” Although the recovery is a relatively short two weeks, he said he now understands just how painful it can be at times, as well as how the procedure can cause apprehension and tension among families. Even though his wife and parents were worried, they all knew it was the best thing to do and supported his decision. He says he would do it again in a heartbeat if he could.
Now when he speaks with patients and their families, he can tell them about his own firsthand experience and how donation can be scary, but the statistics are in favor of people doing very well afterward.
“The slogan I stand by is ‘Share the Spare,’” he said. “Plus, being able to save a life is amazing.”