'Donor Champions' find kidneys for family, friends

Advocates use social media, networking to help
Posted at 9:57 PM, Jan 25, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-26 01:34:28-05

AURORA, Colo. -- Hundreds of people in Colorado need a life-saving kidney transplant, and their friends and family members aren't just sitting back and waiting.

A growing number of people are using new tactics to find a live donor, and research has shown that it works.

"Paul is on dialysis six days a week, and I am his care provider," said Cindy Ramsey Defeo, while attending a Donor Champion class at the University of Colorado Hospital Wednesday.

She and her husband, Paul, have been married for 28 years, and as his advocate, or his " live donor champion" as they are called, she is fighting for many more.

"Honestly, my hope and prayer is that someone feels that they could donate a kidney and feels they are called to do that," said Ramsey Defeo.

She has hope, even though the national wait list for a kidney is now approximately seven years.

"There are people that die every day waiting for a kidney," said Dr. James Cooper, a nephrologist at the University of Colorado Hospital, who pointed to a 2012 Johns Hopkins University program that showed personal advocates and community networks to find organ donors for loved ones resulted in success for nearly half of the participants in its trial run. "So that showed us, first of all, something like this can work, and when we took it in our own hands and did it ourselves, we've seen the same thing. It's been very encouraging."

It worked for Gary McCormack, who wore T-shirts and made posters and went on television to be a donor champion for his wife, Phyllis, three years ago.

They eventually found a match and now, she is healthier than ever.

"I think it absolutely saved her life, which is why I come talk at these classes to encourage others to reach out," said McCormack.

Word has spread about success stories like his, and the donor champion classes are packed with people who want to learn about using social media, dispelling transplant myths and having tough conversations with potential donors.

"I'm here representing my sister-in-law, who has end-stage renal disease," said Mary Wilkerson, a Donor Champion, hoping to help her sister in law find a kidney. "She needs this support, and we can give it to her."

Instead of feeling helpless, many of the people in the class still have hope that a donor might come forward, if they aren't afraid to ask.

"Please, please. Somebody donate a kidney to my husband," said Cindy Ramsey Defeo. "It would change our lives."

For more information and FAQ's about live kidney donation, click here.


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