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Kidney transplant recipient promotes research, awareness during Kidney Transplant Month

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Artice Appling and Tuwanda Crider after the kidney transplant surgery that helped Crider regain her health.
Photo by Eric Futterman

Six months ago, Tuwanda Crider received a special delivery from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to her bedside at VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center.

The package contents, however, were not covered in brown wrapping paper, but in a transport cooler delivered by a chartered helicopter. Crider’s special delivery was a kidney. The organ’s arrival ended her nine-month wait on the National Kidney Registry and allowed for the kidney transplant procedure she needed to live a healthier life, free of the demanding dialysis treatments she endured for four years.

The kidney was transported via helicopter because Crider’s transplant was the same week of the 2015 UCI Road World Cycling Championships in downtown Richmond. Many roads around VCU Medical Center were closed, but time was of the essence because a donated kidney is more effective the less time it spends outside of the body. A chartered helicopter was the most reliable transportation option.

Crider’s procedure was part of a “paired exchange” with Johns Hopkins Hospital. The VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center partners with the National Kidney Registry to match donor-recipient pairs with pairs from other transplant centers in the United States. In Crider’s case, her sister, Artice Appling, was willing to donate her kidney for the transplant but did not have a compatible blood type. A donor linked to a Johns Hopkins patient did, though. So Appling’s kidney went to the Johns Hopkins patient, and the John Hopkins donor’s kidney went to Crider.

VCU Health and Johns Hopkins Hospital personnel swap kidneys at the helipad at VCU Medical Center.
<br>Photo by Maureen Bell
VCU Health and Johns Hopkins Hospital personnel swap kidneys at the helipad at VCU Medical Center.
Photo by Maureen Bell

Since the procedure, both sisters are leading healthy, normal lives. March is National Kidney Transplant Month, and Crider is hopeful that awareness about the issue will grow so that people will be proactive about their health. Due to steroid use for an existing health issue, Crider was overweight. Before coming to VCU Health, she said her previous doctors seemed to only want to focus on that aspect of her care.

I hope people will become more aware and research what’s going on with their body.

“My blood work was off-kilter. But [my first doctor] just kept telling me to lose weight. I wasn’t persistent enough to say ‘Give me another doctor.’ If I had been more proactive, I might not have been in the situation I was in,” she said. “Then years later after I got married, I decided to go forward and find another doctor. I hope people will become more aware and research what’s going on with their body.”

Kidney disease occurs when the kidneys become damaged and lose their ability to filter blood. More than 8 million Americans have a major loss in kidney function. Of those, nearly 400,000 require dialysis or a kidney transplant to stay alive, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The two most common causes of kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure, but avoiding high-fat and high-sodium diets can help combat those ailments. African-Americans are three times more likely to experience kidney failure, as are those with a family history of kidney failure.

Doctors attributed Crider’s kidney failure to sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease that can affect different organs. Still, Crider’s VCU Health surgeon, Chandra Bhati, M.D., said her progress since the procedure has been strong and will likely continue.

“Tuwanda's life has changed significantly. She doesn't need any dialysis as of this point and has no limit on the amount of liquids she can take in, which is a common issue for people on dialysis,” she said. “Her quality of life has improved and her chances of future medical complications have reduced.”

Once confined to her home for periods of time to take dialysis, Crider now helps others with health issues and enjoys an active lifestyle.

“I have been helping an elderly family friend with [Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease] and taking her out and encouraging her,” Crider said. “I have the freedom to get up in the mornings and go to the gym. I can do anything I want to do. I feel comfortable and I don’t get exhausted so quickly. I want people to know that even though they go through medical issues, you can still have a reasonable portion of health.”

I can do anything I want to do. I feel comfortable and I don’t get exhausted so quickly. 

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