University Hospital leads the nation in kidney donation for children

SAN ANTONIO – – The University Health Transplant Institute currently leads the nation in living-donor kidney transplants for children.

“A transplanted kidney from a living donor is more likely to function well after five years than a deceased kidney. The results are exceptional,” said renowned surgeon Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, director of the UH Transplant Institute.

That’s why he and his team made a huge effort to increase the number of living donors to help local children with kidney failure.

About a year ago, 14-year-old Gwyn Deleon felt unwell.

“Blood pressure was very high and there was little oxygen. They said, “Go to the hospital right now.” They did a blood test for organ function and immediately said it was my kidneys,” Gwin said.

She had kidney failure and immediately went on dialysis.

“Chemodialysis lasted only 3 or 4 hours, while peritoneal dialysis lasted 8 hours. So I always had a schedule and I couldn’t leave and I couldn’t hang out with my friends. And the kidney diet is a strict diet, so I couldn’t have a pizza party with my friends or go out to eat with them,” Gwin said.

“It was hard to handle. They knew she would need a kidney transplant,” Gwyn’s father Jeremy DeLeon said.

In their seventh month of dialysis, they joined the University of Public Health’s Champion of Life program, which matches patients with a “champion” trained to help them find a living kidney donor.

“If you need a kidney transplant and we say, ‘You need to find a donor without anyone’s support,’ it’s a pretty awkward conversation with a family member or friend,” Cigarroa said.

When the program launched in 2021, they brought in a new member to the team.

“We hired a social media expert, so we needed someone who could really train a champion. This person may be a family member. It could be the recipients themselves,” said Dr. Jennifer Milton, chief administrator of the Transplant Institute.

“They are trained in how to tell stories. Sometimes telling a story means telling it right. We encourage our champions to say things like, “It doesn’t matter what your blood type is, it doesn’t matter what size you are.” Just ask people to just contact us. Do not try to check the donors themselves. They just go to the site and register as a donor,” Milton said.

Gwyn and her family were amazed at the results.

“Because you live in a small town, word spreads very quickly,” Gwin said.

Her hometown of Devine has rallied around Gwyn, not only with food delivery, but also with loving support.

More than 100 people in the small community have registered to be included in the list of living donors.

Gwyn’s biological mother recognized the need, knew she was a good fit, and donated her kidney.

On November 17, Gwin finally had a successful transplant.

“I was so happy that I cried,” Gwin said. “I can breathe!”

Gwyn wasn’t the only success story at University Health in 2022.

At the end of the year, the team performed more pediatric living-donor kidney transplants than any other transplant program in the country.

“Just under 60 percent of all pediatric transplants we’ve done have been from living donors,” Milton said.

This brings joy to Gwyn, considering that she has met so many of these patients during her treatment.

“When I was on dialysis, I was the oldest there and saw the same children on this machine as I did. Some have not even gone to school yet,” she said.

Cigarroa said part of the reason for their success has to do with culture: a culture of vibrant compassion in the university’s healthcare system and a culture of philanthropy in San Antonio and South Texas.

“Here in San Antonio and in South Texas, we are truly blessed because of our closeness. If I say thank you a thousand times, it won’t be enough,” Jeremy said.

Milton said they are proud of their accomplishments but don’t stop there.

“We send the show on tour. We have introduced Grand Rounds. We have presented other transplant programs at national conferences. We want to tell other transplant centers how best to do this,” she said.

Cigarroa said many programs around the country come to his team asking how they are so successful.

“Public education is very important in this process. If you can really educate them and really let them know what the donation process is like, a lot of people will start to activate,” he said.

The more living donors there are, the more lives are saved, just like Gwyn.

“I encourage people who can donate because I am grateful for mine,” Gwin said.

If you would like to learn more about becoming a living donor, please register at 210-567-5777 or visit UH Transplant Institute website.

Copyright 2023 by KSAT – All rights reserved.

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