In hopes of finding his wife a kidney transplant, Orange City resident Kirk Plante has written a plea on the back of his truck.
“In desperate need of a kidney transplant,” it reads. “If you are interested in giving the gift of life by donating a kidney please call 386-456-3647.”
Kidney disease snuck up on Stacie Plante, who is only 49. She was diagnosed with diabetes in her 20s, and told to watch her salt intake in mid-2020. Then, in December 2020, she was hospitalized with bad pain in her kidneys.
“That’s when I was told my kidneys were failing,” she said.
The outlook wasn’t great. She wasn’t given a specific time frame, but was told she needs a new kidney.
Plante began dialysis in January 2021 and was added to the list of 4,099 Floridians searching for a new kidney, as of Dec. 14. Nationwide on that day, the number of people in need of a kidney was 90,398.
“A lot of people end up not making it to transplant. It’s just awful,” Plante said. “I know I’m not going to live long without a kidney.”
Approaching one year on dialysis, Plante’s treatment has moved to her home, where she undergoes peritoneal dialysis for about 10 hours every day. Peritoneal dialysis involves tubes and fluids that limit Plante’s mobility and make her feel queasy. She’s not able to do much beyond use the restroom and let the fluids remove the waste from her body that her kidneys can’t.
“It takes a lot of my energy,” Plante said.
On most average days, she makes the best of things, doing what she is able to and hoping she gets the lucky phone call announcing there’s a kidney from someone who shares her O-positive blood type.
“I was told at any time I could get a call, but it could be three to five years,” Plante said. “Every time my phone rings, I have to answer.”
So her husband, Kirk Plante, decided to try to improve his wife’s chances. Kirk’s idea?
“We’ll advertise,” he said.
His mobile transplant request — on both his personal Ram pickup and his City of DeBary work truck — was a last-ditch effort. As typically private people, asking for help so publicly wasn’t easy, but the response has been largely positive, Stacie Plante said.
The Plantes have been contacted by about 30 people, all of whom expressed an interest in donating a kidney to help her. That’s in addition to other people who have reached out to offer up their prayers and best wishes.
Because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, though, organ donations are private matters, so whether a potential donor does or doesn’t eventually donate a kidney remains a mystery to Stacie Plante. She is still stuck waiting for a phone call with the news that she’s getting the kidney she needs.
“I would like to have a second chance,” Stacie Plante said. “I’d like to be here for my kids and my grandkids. I’m not ready to leave yet.”
Together, the Plantes have eight children and 12 grandchildren.
People in need
When someone needs a kidney, their name is put on a list, but it’s a lot more complicated than pulling a number at a deli counter.
Let’s say I donate a kidney tomorrow. A computer at the United Network for Organ Sharing then identifies every hospital within a 250-mile radius of me, and starts crunching numbers.
“First, what the computer does is run a list for everyone who is compatible,” Anne Paschke told The Beacon, referring specifically to blood type. “Then, one of the factors used in matching is proximity of your transplant hospital to the donor’s transplant hospital. There’s a circle drawn around the donor’s hospital and your hospital. You could be really high on one list and not high at all on another list.”
Paschke is the public relations manager at the United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS.
“I hear people say, ‘My transplant center says we’re on the top of the list,’” she said. “What they may be saying is you’re one of the patients here with the highest medical-urgency scores.”
A medical-urgency score, when it comes to a kidney, has a lot to do with time spent on the waiting list. A person who has been on dialysis for 10 years will have more “points” when someone nearby has an organ they need than someone who has spent only a year undergoing treatment.
The computer has to sift through lists to determine whether potential transplant recipients have the same blood type as the donor, or whether the size of the organ would be a good fit for the person in need of the kidney. Factors like race and sex are not taken into account.
After all the points are tallied up, people with an active status in the UNOS system may get a phone call. Active people are on the waiting list and ready at any moment to receive an organ. Inactive people may have to finish their paperwork or may be, for example, fighting an infection that would make surgery risky.
According to data from UNOS, 1,639 kidney transplants were performed in Florida in 2020 and, as of Nov. 30, there had been 1,385 performed so far this year.
Humans have two kidneys, and can live with only one. Just 202 of the transplanted kidneys came from living donors, however, while the rest came from deceased donors who had previously agreed to posthumous organ donation.
According to Shannon Starin, a registered nurse and the transplant operations manager at Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach, quite a few people don’t make it through the education process of organ donation.
“You get a lot of people who are interested, but once they learn about it they kind of back off,” Starin said. “You’re asking a healthy person to donate an organ to help somebody else, and once they learn about it, it is very scary. That’s a part of you that’s leaving, and you won’t get it back.”
You can’t get a refund on an organ transplant.
That’s exactly why screening to determine whether someone is eligible to donate an organ is extensive.
Certain pre-existing and chronic conditions, like diabetes and hypertension, can disqualify a person for kidney donation, and screenings must determine you’re healthy enough to make it through an invasive surgery. Because of that, many older would-be donors are out.
But donating a kidney isn’t really something to be scared of, Starin said.
“You will decrease your kidney function, but you can live with one kidney,” she said. “When we take one away, your function is going to go down a little bit, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to go into kidney failure. You can totally live your life on the function of that kidney.”
Plus, donating an organ makes you a priority in the future. Donating a kidney at 25 would bump you to the top of the list if you need a lung transplant at 55, for example.
There’s also the feeling of knowing you gave someone the gift of life.
“In the donation world, your donors are your heroes,” Starin said. “A lot of our heroes are deceased donors, but you’re a living hero. You’ve given life to someone, and you’re still alive to enjoy it.”
Interested in becoming an organ donor? You can sign up to become an organ donor when you die at the United Network for Organ Sharing’s website, www.UNOS.org. To become a live donor, contact your local transplant center. Some are listed below:
- Halifax Health — Call 386-425-4650, or visit www.halifaxhealth.org/services-treatments/our-services/transplant.
- AdventHealth Orlando — Call 407-303-2474, or visit www.adventhealthtransplantinstitute.com.
- UF Health Shands Hospital — Call 352-265-0254, or visit www.ufhealth.org/transplant-center/overview.
Another way to donate
Are you interested in donating a kidney to someone specific, but you don’t have the right blood type? There’s another option — a paired donation. This process involves four people — two donors and two recipients.
If I want to donate a kidney to my wife, for example, but we don’t have matching blood types, transplant centers can track down another two people, a donor and a recipient, who have the required blood types — one who matches me, and a donor who matches my wife. (The pairs don’t necessarily have to be married.)
An organ-transplant center can then perform two transplants, saving two lives and bumping two people to the top of future organ-donation lists.